Hermione’s voice was terse and unforgiving. “How long has it been?”
She was frowning that ‘you stupid boy’ frown of hers… Harry thought, at least. He wasn’t quite sure. Everything after nine o’clock got rather blurry. He winced just in case, so she would know he was taking her seriously.
“It’s not as long as you’re thinking,” Harry mumbled. “Earlier, I got almost two hours.”
She snorted and pulled her wand from her lime green Healer-trainee robes. Began casting over him with quick, sharp flicks. “When’s ‘earlier,’ I wonder,” she asked rhetorically. “Last month? Last year?”
Harry let his eyes fall shut. Diagnostic magic wasn’t hugely soothing, but he always found Hermione’s to be quite nice. Like smelling Molly’s cooking, or waking up at Hogwarts on Christmas morning. He felt the snap of it against his skin, felt his breath begin to slow and steady. It was really very lovely, he thought, managing to relax fractionally.
Until she poked him hard in the sternum with her wand. “Harry!”
Harry jerked, suddenly aware that he’d let himself slide backward onto the sofa and was lying prone. He scowled a little and straightened, righting his glasses on his face. “What? You want me to sleep and then you bloody wake me up! What kind of sense does that make?”
Hermione sighed, sitting down opposite him in a swirl of oddly-fitting wool. “What does your mind healer say?”
“She’s on holiday for a month. And you know what she’s said.” Harry looked away. “I need to sleep; she says I need to talk about my trauma and the things that bug me. Which I do! But I’ve been at my limit for sleeping draughts for a few months, and—” He quirked smile at her. “I just don’t sleep.”
“Your magical core can’t take it,” Hermione said flatly. Her voice softened at whatever she saw in his expression. “Sleeping in one-to-two-hour snatches, I mean. It’s a confluence of events; it drains itself trying to keep you awake through the day when you resist sleep at night, and the way it drains makes you more tired and affects your perception. I’m betting you’re seeing things even now, aren’t you?”
Harry ignored the tiny, glowing green fairy buzzing around her thick, brown hair. “No. I’m relaxing,” he announced, with a grin, though his voice came out sounding kind of slurred and fuzzy. “Which was the main point. That other thing is stupid.”
“What other thing?” Hermione said sharply.
Fuck. Harry frowned.
“The sleep cuddle thing.” He knit his brow. “Cuddler. Touch therapy. Whatever. You know—” He waved a hand in her general direction. “About having someone with me to sleep. Because of the…” The word was right there, somewhere, but Harry couldn’t find it. “That thing that happened? With the guy. And about being alone and night. Like in my cupboard. And the fucking camera. Always those fucking cameras, remember?”
There was a long silence. He batted at a fairy that flew straight at his face.
When Hermione spoke again, it was much quieter, almost sad, and it worried him a bit. “Right, that’s right. I remember now. Because sleeping with someone could be… comforting, right? Knowing you’re not alone.”
“Right.” He nodded, feeling a little sick to his stomach. He’d be fine-ish once the sun rose, he knew, but the later it got, the more his body clamped down on the idea of rest, and the weirder he ended up feeling. “That. That number she gave me?”
“Yes?” Hermione prompted when he fell silent.
Harry blinked. “You look weird when you’re Bill,” he told her.
“I know, just something I’m trying out,” she said after a second. “I’ll stop soon. What about the number, Harry?”
“Well, so I called them. It’s dumb, okay, I know. But I’m— I mean, I do get pretty tired so I thought it couldn’t hurt and… They have a wait list. That thing that happened, you know the thing,” he explained. One of the plants behind her was sparkling, and blooming into the shape of a chicken. He chuckled. He loved magic. “The one where people had trouble sleeping after. Anyway.”
“They had no openings?” she asked. He blinked again, and she looked like herself. “Not even for you?”
“I should have given them my name?” he countered, snapping to attention when her question penetrated.
“Right, okay, yes.” Hermione exhaled deeply, chewing on the corner of her lip. “You know, you could always—with Ron and me? We did all the time in the Forest.”
“Four years ago,” he pointed out. “And it was cold.”
“I think you’re sort of cold now, Harry,” Hermione told him. He flushed, looking down at his hands, then wondered where his pinky fingers had gone to. “And we’d be happy to—”
At his most cogent, Harry wouldn’t be able to explain why that wouldn’t be a good idea. He loved them, was happy for them. He wanted the best for them. But there was a part of him that looked at them together and felt… lonely. Jealous. Small. Sleeping next to them again—when they weren’t on the run for their lives—probably wasn’t the best solution to that.
He shook his head. “No. Thanks, but—no.”
“What about money?” she asked abruptly.
“I have plenty of money,” Harry told her, confused. “A lot. Like, a lot. I wish you’d let me buy you guys a house. Can I? There’s a nice one I saw, just over in—”
She made a little ‘tsk’ sound under her breath. “Did you offer extra money to the agency?” she interrupted. Harry pondered how rude she was for just a second.
“Should I have?”
“Harry,” she said, looking exasperated. Quite an accomplishment for someone suddenly wearing bananas on her head. “Yes. As repellent as it is, sometimes that sort of thing will bump you ahead of the line. Which you certainly need.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll call them back in a few days. And offer them lots of money. Buying-a-house money? Or more?”
Hermione suddenly reached over and cupped his cheek. Her palm was soft, a contrast to the wand callouses on her thumb and forefinger moving over his cheekbone. He leaned into it. “I’ll take care of it,” she told him gently. She was so nice. He loved her so much. “I’ll have someone to you tomorrow, okay? We’ll get someone here.”
“Okay,” he sighed. His eyes drifted shut again, opening only when she rose, still smoothing her hand against his face, then bent to drop a kiss against his forehead. He wondered how long they’d been sitting together like that; he already felt a little steadier, and she had pale purple smudges under her eyes.
“Will you be okay? You could come home with me,” she offered.
“No. I’m fine. I think I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” he assured her. At the dubious tightening of her lips, he smiled. “Really. I promise.”
“Floo over if you change your mind. I’ll keep it open for you.”
“I will,” he said, then watched as she disappeared in a flare of green.
He stared at the wall for a bit—it undulated hypnotically—then got up to fix himself a sandwich.
Still, he was disturbed enough by how quickly he’d devolved into such a confused state when everything had seemed so simple—if unsettling—a few days ago. He owled Hermione for a rundown of the previous night to make sure he’d gotten it right, from her mention of his disoriented imagination to the magical core thing. Her response, received early in the evening, wasn’t quite as comforting as she'd been before she left:
Yes. The unconscious overuse of magic can drain your core and effect your perception. I booked you a professional sleep cuddler who will be there promptly at nine. Try, at least, or I’ll hustle you over to St. Mungo’s so fast you’ll likely get Splinched. (At least then they might put you in a medically-induced coma!)
Grimacing, he recalled telling her about that. Sort of.
Harry stared down at the parchment for a long while, then shrugged. His body was already beginning to wind down, becoming sluggish. He was just glad he’d remembered to do some laundry while he had a little bit of energy. Probably wouldn’t be polite to be wearing his dirty flannels when whoever-she-was arrived.
He ordered some takeaway curry, then spent a couple of hours straightening his house, not exactly sure how this cuddling thing worked. Would she stay the whole night? Or just until he got into a deep sleep? Would they have to actually—cuddle? Or was it more of a sleeping side-by-side thing? Would they talk first? Did he want to?
By the time nine o’clock rolled around, Harry felt generally listless and even more uncomfortable with the whole thing. The lassitude had started to encroach upon him, making it more difficult to accomplish anything; he couldn’t even make sense out of whatever was playing on the television, really. The colours on it were somehow too colourful, the actions too exuberant. It was fucking unnerving, especially when one long-haired actress turned to him and told him she liked his shoes.
He wasn’t even wearing any shoes.
Nine fifteen hit, and Harry didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that his cuddler hadn't shown up. He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep, and it felt like his heart wanted to pound out of his throat. He had to stay alert. Had to stay awake. So many things could happen while he slept. So many things he didn’t want to—
A soft knock sounded, interrupting his train of thought and Harry opened his eyes, irrationally grateful to hear it. He stumbled over to the door and stared at the man waiting here. The light from his flat poured out into the night and the man's pale cap glinted oddly in it. His face took on a wobbly, undefined shape, but Harry was pretty sure he was biting his lip.
“You’re late,” he grumbled. He left the door open and staggered back to the living room, throwing himself on the sofa. A moment later, the man joined him in the living room, slipping off his gloves and slowly unwrapping his scarf. Harry glared at him, and after another second, he shrugged out of his cloak, but for some reason chose to keep his cap on.
“Uh, yes. When I realised who the address belonged to, I—”
“Oh, god, you’re not going to make this worse than it has to be, right?” Harry sighed, shoulders tensing. “It was years ago. Call me Harry, okay? Just— I’m just Harry. And I thought you’d be a girl.”
There was a pause. The man gingerly sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. “I think my mother was hoping for one, but she seems perfectly satisfied. You’ll get over it. Unless I should leave?”
“No,” Harry said, ignoring the small voice in his head that whispered it’d be nicer this way. The cuddling. The sleep. It didn’t matter, that other bit. That man at the club—the club itself; just because he wanted things didn’t mean he expected them, or was allowed to have them. He shook his head to clear it, then sucked in a quick, startled breath. The man looked just like Malfoy. Sounded like him too—that biting tone he’d used when mentioning his mum, like the last time Harry’d seen him, just a few weeks back. Harry’s face warmed; he swallowed and decided to ignore the similarity just as dutifully as he was ignoring the way the fire in his hearth suddenly flared. “I’m—uh… I’m not sure what to do here,” he admitted, peering closely at his… Cuddler? Who seemed as ill-at-ease as Harry was. “Have you done this before?”
“Of course, I have,” Malfoy-cuddler said, straightening haughtily. Harry almost laughed. “I’m a professional.”
“Right, okay,” Harry said sardonically. “Then tell me what to do? Do we just go to bed? To sleep, I mean, to sleep.”
Curious grey eyes studied him for a minute. “We could talk for a few minutes, if you’re really— if you’d actually like me to stay? I usually talk with my clients first. Helps them relax… There are a few other things we could do.”
“Like what?” Harry asked, only slightly interested. Harry took a deep breath; a faint scent tickled his nose, and he realised that it was Malfoy-cuddler—who smelled surprisingly nice, like cool apples and something spicy—cinnamon, maybe. Cider, that was it; he smelled like cider, with just a dash of whisky.
“Sometimes we eat. Watch the muggle-box a bit, if they’re muggle-born. Play games. I can—” He hesitated, running a hand through his cap. Harry snorted.
“You can what?”
“I give, um. Foot rubs. Shoulder rubs.” Malfoy-cuddler sniffed, looking away. A bright red flag appeared over his sharp cheekbones. “For well-behaved clients who have trouble feeling soothed.” He pursed his lips. “You’ve paid for the full night, so I’m required offer them to you, since you haven’t… been inappropriate.”
Harry looked at him and Malfoy-cuddler looked steadily back, that bloom of colour over his cheeks brightening as Harry watched. Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ve never— I'd probably just get more… nervous.”
“Well, if you change your mind, P— Harry. I’m a professional,” the Cuddler said again.
They lapsed into an awkward silence. Malfoy-cuddler’s features slipped periodically from undefined to as pointy as Malfoy’s face had ever been, only slightly wider and more… adult, Harry thought. Malfoy had filled into it in previous years; was unavoidably handsome now, in an aristocratic way— sharp-edged and hard-jawed, pale and steady-eyed—and it was a bit unnerving to be sitting on his sofa with someone who looked so much like him. Suddenly Malfoy, as young as he’d been back at Hogwarts, appeared behind Malfoy-cuddler’s shoulder.
“Hi,” Harry said; it was impolite not to greet someone. He knew that much, at least.
Malfoy-cuddler started; he looked behind himself, then back to Harry, who sealed his lips and glared at Malfoy resentfully for getting him into trouble. “Who’s here? If your flat is haunted and you didn’t tell us when booking…”
“No. My friend booked it for me. It’s just… I’m having a thing. It’s hard to sleep, so sometimes I—” He shook his head at Malfoy, who was unbuttoning his shirt. The bright pink slash of a scar was revealed, the tip of it widening as Malfoy undid his third button. Harry grimaced, wondering how far down it went. “There’s no one here. I think. Sorry. Go away,” he hissed, then smiled innocently at his Cuddler, who was gaping at him. “Not you.”
“Are you having visions?” Malfoy-cuddler blurted, aghast. “That’s extremely… Let’s get you into bed. Which way?”
Harry pointed, then took the hand that was slowly offered and let himself be heaved up from the relative comfort of the sofa. His cuddler led him down his hallway, peeking first into the closed door that led to Harry’s office, then to the door that led to his room. He guided Harry to the bed, face set, then pushed him to a sit on the edge of it, eyes flicking around. “Your loo?”
Harry pointed again, and Malfoy-cuddler removed a small leather pouch from his pocket. “Pyjamas,” he explained, when he saw Harry glancing at it. “It’s more comfortable for both parties, generally. I can keep on my regular attire if you’re more—”
“No!” Harry said, alarmingly fast. His face felt hot. It surely had more to do with the way his wardrobe in the corner was setting off thick waves of steam into his normally freezing room than the lightning-fast thought that he'd like to see what his brain put Malfoy-cuddler in to sleep. He cleared his throat when Malfoy-cuddler’s eyes widened. “I just mean, it’s better to be comfortable. It’s a good idea, is all.”
“Shall I, then?” Malfoy-cuddler made a gesture to the en suite, and Harry nodded. “I won’t be long. You should change as well. Normal sleep attire would be best.”
“If only I slept normally,” Harry joked. Malfoy-cuddler cracked a smile that felt a bit pitying, then he disappeared into the bathroom. Harry listlessly Accio-d his clean pair of cotton pyjama bottoms, then wiggled out of his jeans, tossing them to the floor. He kept his t-shirt on—it was one of his older ones, soft and comfortable—and scooted over, feeling the pit in his stomach tighten and get heavy.
He heard the sounds of the faucet, the flush of the toilet. A few minutes lapsed, drawn out elastically, until every one of Harry’s muscles was protesting with tension, shaking even. The whole thing suddenly felt intimidating; his first time in bed with a man he didn't know, someone who was… attractive, and smelled nice, and had offered to rub his shoulders. Harry kept his eyes trained on the door, waiting. And waiting.
He was about to fire the man through the door of the loo when it finally opened. Malfoy-cuddler stepped out, wearing a set of soft black pyjamas, slippery like satin. His feet were bare and pale, with high arches and bony toes; his collarbone—angular, jutting attractively—was exposed where he’d left the top button of his shirt open, just below his Adam’s apple, which bobbed as he padded closer on near-silent feet. Harry thought it was odd he’d chosen to keep his cap on, but perhaps Malfoy-cuddler had anticipated how cold his room would get. Either way, Harry decided it wasn’t his place to ask, so he simply watched as Malfoy-cuddler stopped at the edge of the bed, fingers straying to the duvet. “May I?”
Harry nodded wordlessly.
Malfoy-cuddler climbed atop the mattress, eschewing getting in under the covers the way Harry had. Harry’s room was still hot, anyway, but he found himself regretting that he’d chosen to forego the heavy press of blankets atop him; to not being able to huddle close to someone and be cocooned by them. Harry took off his glasses, dropping them onto his nightstand, then scooted over slightly to allow for more room and turned his head to look at the man in his bed. Veiled grey eyes blinked at him. “Were you looking for more of a sleep partner than a professional cuddler?” Malfoy-cuddler asked, voice low and serious. “Or is it just that it’s me?”
“Oh. No,” Harry said, feeling slow and stupid, “I was just… being polite. I’d forgot that part.”
“Any positions you prefer?”
“What?” Harry blurted. His cock, half-hard—and dutifully ignored since Harry’d first smelled the man—twitched. He rolled slightly, pulling his thigh up to disguise the way it was starting to tent his pyjama bottoms. He Accioed the throw blanket from the bottom of the bed and draped it over himself, then turned back to Malfoy-cuddler, whose cheeks were tinged with pink again.
“Sleeping positions,” he clarified after clearing his throat. His eyes gleamed oddly at Harry, his nostrils flaring. He broke his gaze and tugged on part of the blanket. “If I could...”
“Sure. I, uhm… I sleep on my side,” Harry said lamely as Malfoy-cuddler took a portion of the blanket and spread it over himself. “I mean, I wake up on my stomach usually, but I fall asleep on my side.”
“Stomach sleepers often prefer to be held against the chest,” Malfoy-cuddler murmured, almost too low for Harry to hear. “It satisfies both positions; the press of your front against something, while lying on your side. We could try that?”
“I guess,” Harry said cautiously, scooting closer. Malfoy-cuddler spread his arm out along Harry’s pillow, expectantly, as if it were just that easy for Harry to press against him, to nestle into him and let a man’s arm wrap around his shoulders, to bury his nose in the heat of Malfoy-cuddler’s throat. His cock throbbed again. He rolled abruptly, facing away. “I mean, no. Like this is fine.”
Harry felt the man fit himself gently against Harry’s back, knees crooking inside his own bent ones, the lanky line of his body pressed flush. One arm disappeared—under his head, maybe—while the other slid over the cotton of Harry’s shirt. Harry’s stomach muscles jumped at the touch of those long fingers, warmer than they looked considering how pale they were. The hand settled on his stomach as the man curled around him, and Harry let go of a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding. He could even feel the man’s cock, soft, against his buttocks. “Oh,” he said, a little wonderingly. The ball of nerves in his chest began to unravel with the protective press behind him.
“Yeah,” Harry breathed. “You… You smell good.”
There was a pause. Then, “Thank you; you do too. Like,” Malfoy-cuddler’s voice grew bemused, “treacle tart. Really… Harry?”
“What?” Harry said defensively. “I like it.”
“I hope it wasn’t all you had for dinner.” The hand on his stomach flattened, pinky skimming Harry’s far hipbone. Harry jerked, then forced himself to settle.
“Curry,” Harry said on a yawn. His body felt heavy, but the strange stupor that had followed him around lately, like the drizzliest, most depressing of London’s rains, seemed to have dissipated just a touch. “Then treacle tart.”
“I prefer biscuits,” the man said, voice low and even in Harry’s ear.
“What kind?” Harry asked, nestling deeper into the man’s arms. His eyes were heavy.
“Sugar. They’re nice with a cup of tea in the morning.”
“At least I don’t eat biscuits for breakfast,” Harry said. He felt the rumble of soft laughter against his back, and smiled drowsily. His eyes drooped closed and his mind began to feed him odd images. He tensed slightly; rather than letting the lethargy overtake him, the sensation of being on the precipice of sleep wound him up. “Why—why were you in the loo for so long? I heard the toilet flush almost right away,” he added, then felt like a right berk for bringing up pissing habits while in bed with a stranger.
“You should try not to fight it. You’ve got someone with you. I’ve signed a binding contract and you’re safe. You’ve got me with you, and you’re safe, Harry,” Malfoy-cuddler said, then cuddled him closer. He rested his chin on Harry’s shoulder; his hair brushed against Harry’s ear, and his voice was warm and deep and quiet. “Also, rest assured I’m not the sort to take a shit in your restroom without flushing.”
Harry barked a surprised laugh. He let himself press into the deceptively lean body behind him; the man hummed approvingly. “I wasn’t asking that,” Harry said, mouth curled up.
“Oh.” A beat passed. “I wasn’t doing anything untoward in there, either,” he said, and Harry’s face flamed hot. “Just a series of charms and meditations; things to regulate my body and get me into the right mind-state. It’s important to not let your own—issues, thoughts, et. cetera, get in the way of your first priority, which is to help soothe your client.”
“Is it distasteful?” Harry asked when Malfoy-cuddler made no other reference to what Harry hadn’t realised he’d been asking. “Sleeping with strangers?”
There was a huff of warm breath against the back of Harry’s neck; he tried not to shiver. “Sometimes it’s… more pleasant than others,” the man said diplomatically after a moment. “Sometimes not as fraught with other implications.”
Harry’s shoulders went tight again. He started to scoot away, but Malfoy-cuddler stayed him, flat palm a sturdy, stubborn press against Harry’s midsection. “What?” His lips ghosted coolly against the back of Harry’s ear, then away as he sighed. “I apologise, Potter. I shouldn’t have made reference.”
“How’d you know?” Harry said. His voice came out raw and unattractive. “Did something show up in the papers? I haven’t been reading them, and Ron and Hermione wouldn’t bring it up if it did. I keep waiting for the reporters to start camping outside again.”
The pause seemed thoughtful this time; loaded. Slowly, the hand on his stomach came up, skimming over his ribcage then moving along his arm lightly, cupping his bicep as it kept going. Then long fingers were kneading his shoulder, a firm thumb digging into the muscle. Harry groaned involuntarily.
“I don’t read the papers, either,” Malfoy-cuddler said conversationally, tone still modulated. There was a bit of a rustle, a shift and dip in the mattress. Then two hands were rubbing him, pushing deep into tissues that felt like they’d been kinked up for months.
“That—that feels good,” Harry managed. His eyes slipped shut again.
“That’s what I’m here for.”
“To make me feel good?” Harry mumbled.
A scoff sounded, but it didn’t seem unkind. “I suppose. To make you feel like you’re not alone. Not an assurance I would have expected that you—of all people—would need.”
“Yeah. S’hard to get… to meet new… to even… when you’re me. That feels really good,” Harry said again. He twisted a little, caught a glimpse of Malfoy-cuddler’s face, screwed up with concentration, the corner of his lower lip trapped between his teeth. His eyes, still doing that glint-y thing, flicked up to Harry’s face, and he gave a rather self-conscious, awkward shrug, then looked back to his hands—which were sort of heavenly on Harry’s shoulders, he had to admit. Harry turned again, resting his cheek against the pillow. “You called me Potter,” he said sleepily.
“Oh. Yeah.” Malfoy-cuddler chuckled a little as his thumb found a spot that had Harry groaning again. “Frankly, I’m having trouble enough coping with the idea that I’m not allowed to hex you. Not that I want to, anymore,” he said, then obliquely added, “Usually.”
“Relax, Potter. Harry. I’m joking,” Malfoy-cuddler said. “That contract. Surely whoever booked my services—Granger, I’m guessing?—was careful enough to look over the clause about physical harm.”
“Fuck, you sound so much like him,” Harry whispered as he absorbed the posh, clipped tones of Malfoy-cuddler’s voice.
“Like who?” Malfoy-cuddler asked softly.
Harry shook his head, as much as he was able. There were warm, strong fingers massaging his shoulders, and the length of another body pressed against him, curled around him, tight, like sometimes in the Forest with his friends, and nothing at all like when he would wake up as a boy alone in his cupboard. “He would never,” Harry got out on a long breath, and then he fell asleep.
“It is if I want it to be,” Harry insisted. He brandished his wand, and it was just like Hogwarts; it felt good to have that magical energy gathering in his wrist, felt good to have Malfoy shift against him, eyes flickering with fear. He poked Malfoy in the hip with his wand, and that felt even better, so he did it again.
“It’ll hurt you if you go too long; that kind of depletion of your energy needs to be built up again slowly,” Malfoy told him imperiously. He didn’t even move away from Harry’s wand, instead reaching out with one finger to prod Harry in the chest. Harry’s scowl deepened. “I’m serious, Potter. Come on, now.”
“And I’m supposed to listen to you, why now?” Harry demanded, glaring. He rubbed his wand against Malfoy’s hip again, for good measure. “You never even talk to me for more than five minutes before rushing away.”
“Potter!” Malfoy growled. “Wank up!”
“I’m not wanking in front of you,” Harry snapped after only considering for an hour or two. He wondered what Malfoy’s cock looked like, so he rubbed his wand against him again, staring at Malfoy’s crotch. Malfoy made a pained sound. The thick line of his cock could be seen clearly through his satin pyjamas.
“You bloody idiot! Wake! Up!” Malfoy said, gasping a little as Harry reached for him curiously. He’d never actually touched another cock, but Malfoy’s looked pretty nice, even if Malfoy himself was being a giant tosser. Malfoy’s hand snapped out; it caught around his wrist, halting him. “Harry,” he said plaintively.
Well, that was weird, Malfoy calling him that, Harry thought. He frowned; he really needed to pee.
Harry blinked his eyes open. It took a couple of tries, grainy as they were from sleep. Everything looked soft-edged without his glasses, but bright sunlight flooded in through the window in his room, spilling as far as his bed even, which meant it must be—
“Merlin,” he muttered, voice rusty. “What time is it?”
“Almost eleven,” Malfoy said, sounding relieved. Harry was facing him and he snuggled closer, one arm thrown tight around Malfoy’s middle, his body held against his side, a leg thrown over his two. One of Malfoy’s arms was under his neck, and Harry thought idly that he should have just accepted Malfoy’s offer the previous night to start out in this position; it was a good one. He rocked a little, biting his lip as his cock rubbed against the bone of Malfoy’s narrow hip. Malfoy made a small, high sound, and Harry blinked again, suddenly aware that his eyes had drifted back shut.
“Oh. I never sleep that late. In fact, I never even…” Harry trailed off, then looked up and froze.
Malfoy—Draco Malfoy, the real Draco Malfoy, his brain supplied—stared back at him. His cheeks were slightly flushed, mouth soft and parted. His white-blond hair was tousled and as Harry watched, he dragged an agitated hand through it, ruffling it further. “I know,” Malfoy told him shortly. “It’s a dangerous side effect for wizards. It took me near an hour to coax you out of it; I hadn’t realised you were that far gone last night. Have you even heard of a magical coma? I was considering Apparating you to Mungo’s,” he said resentfully.
“What are you doing here?” Harry demanded, finding his voice. His hands automatically slid up, leg dragging over Malfoy’s stomach as he straddled him, rolling atop him in a swift move to detain him. His hands clamped over Malfoy’s wrists, and Malfoy’s mouth sagged open.
“What the bloody fuck, Potter!” He squirmed beneath Harry indignantly, just enough to make Harry aware of another problem. Harry blinked and lifted himself into a higher straddle, away from Malfoy’s body.
“How’d you get in here?” Harry repeated. “What’d you do to my— to the—” He stopped. Malfoy’s astonished, angry expression melted away into a sneer.
“You are kidding me,” he spat. “Just how deep have your delusions gotten? Get the fuck off me!”
Blood roaring in his ears, Harry released Malfoy’s wrists and climbed off him, scooting back and reaching for his wand, tucked safely beneath his pillow. “That was you last night?” he checked, unable to keep the shock out of his tone. “Why in the name of Merlin would you even want to— to—”
Malfoy sat up, rubbing at his wrists. “Some of us,” he said sourly, “take pride in being able to perform our jobs well. Even when they’re unpalatable.”
Harry stared at him uncomprehendingly. At length, he asked, “What happened last night?”
Malfoy stood up, grabbing his wand from the nightstand and Summoning the little leather pouch. “You were about two sleepless nights away from turning squib, apparently,” he bit out. “I’m under obligation of contract to inform you that you—obviously—need at least another week of decent sleep. Minimum six hours in a row per every twenty-four, else you risk irreparable damage to your magical core.” He stalked to the bathroom, then turned and faced Harry again. “And now I’d say we’re as even as we’re ever going to get.”
Malfoy slammed the door.
Gaping, Harry stared at it for a few moments before his bladder urgently reminded him he needed to move. He grabbed his glasses and gingerly stood up, body still uncoordinated from such a heavy sleep, then hobbled across the hall and took a few precious moments in the guest loo to relieve himself and rinse his mouth out. He looked in the mirror when he was done; the wan, greyish pallor of his face had faded, as had the dullness of his eyes. He still had shadows under them, and there was a deep pillow crease across one cheek, but he looked… better. He felt better.
Thoughtfully, he made his way down the hall to the kitchen, automatically setting a kettle on and sending periodic glances in the direction of his bedroom. He just didn’t… get it. That Malfoy would stay the night, would hold him while he slept.
He’d thought about Malfoy occasionally over the last few years. Until they’d begun running into each other with increasing regularity— then he’d thought about him a lot. Far more than was entirely comfortable, really, Harry admitted. He pondered the change in Malfoy’s hairstyle—falling naturally rather than being slicked back, slightly shorter; it even had a bit of a wave—the new way he’d held himself, far more controlled than before the war, chin up and eyes darting warily. Considered the aspects about him that made Harry unable to look away when they found themselves in the same place.
The first time had been at the apothecary six months back, when Malfoy had joined him in the queue, nodding like he didn’t expect to get acknowledged. When Harry had smiled and nodded back—too stunned by the attraction spiking through him to assume Malfoy would behave as he always had—Malfoy had relaxed fractionally; enough, at least, to ask what Harry was buying that day. It gave Harry leave to ask after Malfoy’s mum, and they’d parted amicably, only to run into each other two weeks later at a Quidditch game.
Harry had been sure he’d been seated next to someone else, but at the end of the match he’d turned and been surprised to see Malfoy there, looking after the players as they walked off the pitch. Malfoy had been surprised to see him too, and they’d talked for almost an hour about the game—Falcons versus Harpies—and other things before Malfoy had abruptly taken his leave, barely saying goodbye before he’d Apparated away.
And each subsequent interaction was like that, too: Malfoy showing cautious interest and warmth, even smiling a few times—laughing once—before he would get a shifty look on his face and Apparate or scurry to the nearest Floo. They saw each other with amazing regularity, particularly as Harry didn’t go out all that often these days, at least not to places he was likely to run into the crowds. But four-to-one odds were that when he did, he’d see Malfoy and share a few moments of conversation before Malfoy would disappear and leave Harry contemplating their interaction for the rest of the day. The most recent had been at a new pub in Diagon, where Malfoy had approached him at the bar while the bartender’s back was turned and offered the name of a new drink that had—after Harry’d ordered it—sat heavy and sticky-sweet on his tongue, but had gotten him pissed in record time.
Still, none of that compared to sleeping in someone’s arms after they’d tried to cast an Unforgivable at you. None of it compared to them holding you close and telling you that you were safe, when you’d onced slashed them to ribbons with your wand.
The kettle whistled and Harry got up as he heard the soft tread of footsteps. Malfoy paused outside the kitchen, probably to gather his things, which Harry had seen draped over one of the chairs in the sitting room. He finished preparing the tea then sat, just in time for Malfoy to go walking past the entrance to the kitchen.
“Malfoy,” he blurted.
Malfoy hesitated, one hand on the door. He turned his head in Harry’s direction, but didn’t look at him. “What.”
“I—I fixed some tea,” Harry said with a swallow. He nudged the other cup across the table. “I don’t have any sugar biscuits, but—” When Malfoy didn’t move, Harry sighed. “I’m sorry, alright? I’ve been out of it, as you could tell. I thought we could talk for a minute. I wanted to ask about—” Harry shifted uncomfortably, “—about the squib thing you mentioned. About what you do.”
Looking as though he’d rather drink blended Flobberworm than Harry’s tea, Malfoy let out a small breath that made his white-blond fringe fan up like a snow flurry before it settled. He took two long strides into the room and pulled out the chair opposite Harry, lowering himself onto the edge of it in a weird, inflexible, I’m-about-to-bolt perch. “I’m not on the clock anymore, Potter.”
“Oh?” Harry leaned back, studying him. He was wearing light grey trousers and a soft green jumper over a white button-down with a perfectly-knotted tie at the collar. His hair was no longer the sleep-tangled mess it had been several minutes prior, and he seemed completely composed but for the fact that he still wasn’t looking directly at Harry. “How long did Hermione, er, contract you for?”
“Ten hours,” Malfoy said, picking up the cup of tea and giving it a dubious sniff. He blew on it gently, steam wafting away from him, then took a sip and gave a grudging nod, finally meeting Harry’s eyes. “It’s not horrible.”
“I’m handy in the kitchen,” Harry said. He took a sip of his own, then Summoned some sugar and added a bit more, offering it to Malfoy and putting it down between them when Malfoy shook his head. “So you stayed an extra four hours? Why?”
Malfoy paused. “Like I said, I wasn’t about to get blamed for the Saviour,” he said, with just a touch of his former sneer, “going Squib, even if the contract had been fulfilled. Besides which,” he added, voice tight, “I did owe you.”
“So that’s what it was?” For something to do Harry took another gulp of the tea, wincing as it burned the roof of his mouth. He set down his cup and looked at Malfoy squarely. “A fear of getting blamed, and debt?”
“And professionalism,” Malfoy said with a nod. “Yes.”
“I sort of thought… Whenever we see each other lately, things haven’t been... like this,” Harry admitted unhappily. “You seemed nicer than this last night.”
Malfoy snorted. “So did you. But I was on the clock and you were seeing imaginary men behind me and apparently didn’t even recognise me, so…”
“I did,” Harry said awkwardly. “Recognise you, that is.” Malfoy’s gaze met his again, then swerved away. “I just didn’t realise that it was you, you. I’ve been—with my friends, even—I’ve been… They don’t always look like themselves when I see them lately.”
“Yeah.” Harry thought for a moment, eyes on the warm scarred wood of his kitchen table. “Why’d you— How’d you— How’d you start doing this? How does your father feel about it?”
Malfoy observed him over the rim of his cup for a couple of beats, then lowered it and smirked. “He loathes it,” he offered, with such a rich sense of satisfaction that Harry couldn’t help his stunned little laugh. “I’ll be billing you for the extra time,” he added.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
“And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make a complaint, or make this public” Malfoy said. “I generally Glamour my appearance with clients.” He swallowed, looking away. “The agency knows my identity, of course, but I… I prefer privacy.”
“I won’t make a complaint,” Harry told him. “I, uh, prefer privacy, too.”
“Yes, well yours is assured by means of the contract. Which you should have read,” Malfoy returned, sniffing. “Don’t you know better than to let a stranger—or someone you thought was a stranger—into your house? Into your bed?” He smirked. “Or is that something you do all the time?”
“Fuck off, I was—” Harry blushed and sighed again, dragging a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry for the way I reacted when I woke up. It was… decent of you. To stay. To help.”
“I’m a wonderful person,” Malfoy said flatly.
Harry tried to bite back another laugh but really, he reasoned as he began snickering, why bother. Malfoy’s mouth ticked up to one side, as he watched Harry. Harry managed to get control of himself and rubbed a hand over his face. “So Hermione only booked the one night then?”
“What?” Malfoy blinked. “Yes. I could find you someone if you’d like another—”
“You’re not free again?” Harry blurted, then promptly shut his mouth with a click of teeth. Heat rose in his cheeks.
“I— I—” Looking mystified, Malfoy shook his head so vigorously his carefully-styled blond hair flew up, dishevelling it once more. It was a better look on him, Harry thought, then blushed deeper. “I don’t usually take overnight calls.”
“Oh.” Unsure why he was so disappointed, Harry nodded. “Then why last night?”
“It was a last-minute booking, for a high-paying client,” Malfoy said slowly. “They knew I was free. And I’m—good at my job.”
“What kind of appointments do you usually take?” Harry asked. “I mean, maybe I could book you for those six hours you said I need, earlier.” At Malfoy’s stunned expression, Harry hastily added, “It’s just—you already know who I am, and, and.” He pursed his lips. “I mean, I did get some sleep.”
“My appointments are sporadic,” Malfoy said. A muscle jumped in his cheek. “Throughout the day, I mean. Usually one to two hours apiece. I have steady clients, so I wouldn’t be able to spare a solid six hours—seven would be better, to allow you time to fall asleep—during the day.”
Harry grimaced; it occurred to him that he was basically begging Malfoy to— to cuddle him. He lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug. “Right. That’s fine. I just wondered. Discretion and stuff, you know. I already know you, so it wouldn’t be like… I mean, I wouldn’t have to worry that—”
“Know me?” Malfoy asked incredulously. “Potter, are you forgetting we hate each other?”
“We don’t hate each other,” Harry said, surprised. He cleared his throat. “I mean, we manage to get on well enough when we run into each other. You’re not the person I’d ever ask if I needed help moving, but… I got over that stuff, with us, a long time ago,” he said. Fairness made him add, somewhat stiffly, “For the most part. I’m sorry if you haven’t.”
Malfoy seemed at a loss for words. One shoulder hitched up. “I have, I suppose,” he said, sucking his upper lip between his teeth before releasing it. Harry’s throat tightened. “For the most part. But running into someone at the pub and recommending a drink is a lot different than—”
Harry grinned. “I thought of that, too.”
“I mean, I could—” Malfoy broke off. His eyes were trained on his hands, fiddling with his cup of tea. Though they were perfectly clean, he wiped them studiously on a napkin. At length, he exhaled hard and looked back up. “It’s a short-term appointment, right? You’d just be needing someone in the interim while you reset your magical core?”
“I guess. Yeah, sure,” Harry said.
“I could make an exception, then. For a f— for an acquaintance, though it’s not the most...” Malfoy frowned slightly, then gave a tiny shake of his head. “I’d be able to book you for the full ten,” he added. “Until your sleep routine steadies.”
Harry started to object, an automatic, you don’t have to coming to his lips at Malfoy’s grudging tone, but he held it back. He didn’t know why it felt so important for it to be Malfoy, but he’d since he’d already manoeuvred him into agreeing, it’d be ridiculous to turn down the offer. And he was clear-headed enough—at the moment, at least—to know that he felt better after having slept.
Harry cleared his throat. “Thanks. Er, anything I need to know?”
“I’ll send over a contract for a week,” Malfoy said, taking what sounded to be the last sip of his tea. “You’ll want to stay away from draining magic—difficult spells, defensive or offensive magic—during the day, and try not to doze or cat-nap, as well, because that could hinder your ability to fall asleep. If your sleep hasn’t stabilised within that time—”
“Got it,” Harry interjected. “I’ll get someone new.”
Malfoy looked at him strangely. “Have you always been this…”
“No, what?” Harry prodded. “Have I always been this, what?”
“Annoying,” Malfoy snapped. “I was going to say ‘annoying,’ but then I remembered you always have been, so.” He glowered for a moment and swiveled in his chair as though he were about to launch off it. “I can’t be here before ten tonight.”
“Okay. So ten to eight?”
“Yes.” Malfoy stood up, looking around for a second. “Have—whoever does your reading for you read the contract through and owl it back before six. Will you be fine in the meantime? You said something about the later it gets…”
“I’ll be fine,” Harry assured him, though he wasn’t entirely positive. But at least this time if he decided to top spaghetti with melted peanut butter as a sauce, he’d have someone there to tell him it was daft. He stood up too. “Thanks, Malfoy.”
Malfoy looked at him, at the outstretched hand Harry offered. He gave Harry a strained smile—or what looked like was meant to be a smile—and took it, giving it two short, sterile pumps before pulling away. “I’ll see you tonight, then,” Malfoy said, voice low and just a touch inquisitive.
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Harry said, then winced. “Here. I’ll be here.”
Malfoy stared at him for a long moment, snorted, then gathered his scarf from the table and wound it around his neck. Without another word, he turned and left. The kitchen continued to smell like warm cider for a long while after.
Harry halted in place, automatically bringing his wand up and looking around. But there was no one save Ron, sitting on his sofa with a palm held up.
“I wasn’t making any noise,” Harry objected, lowering his voice when Ron shushed him again.
“’Mione’s asleep,” Ron whispered. Harry walked over and sat down next to him. “She’s working the late training rotation lately, you know, not sleeping enough.”
“Wonder what that’s like,” Harry said sarcastically, and Ron huffed a laugh. Harry smiled. “When’s she supposed to be up?”
“Soon. Why? What do you need?” Ron tilted his head, mouth relaxing as he studied Harry. “You look better,” he said, surprised. “The cuddler thing worked, then?”
Sheepish, Harry nodded. “Yeah. And—” His mouth twisted; he wasn’t sure if he wanted to smile or frown, so he did neither. Or both. “It was Malfoy.”
Ron’s eyebrows shot up. “Draco Malfoy?” he shouted.
“No; Lucius,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Morning, Hermione.”
Ron spun around, face falling. He gave Hermione an apologetic look as she padded out to the living room in a fluffy dressing gown and picked up the cup of coffee on the table, which was sitting under a stasis charm. “Sorry,” Ron murmured, accepting her sleepy cheek kiss. “I was going to give you another thirty.”
“It’s fine, I was already awake.” She yawned, directing sleepy brown eyes at Harry. “Did I hear you right? Your cuddler was Malfoy? I didn't know he was doing that.”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, me neither. I actually—don't know much about what he's doing at all, lately. I've never even asked,” he added sheepishly, feeling like a bastard. He held out the scroll that contained the contract. “I looked at this, but was hoping you could double-check it for me? My solicitor isn’t answering his Floo.”
“You realise I’m in Healer training, not legal, right?” Hermione asked, taking it from him.
Harry paused. “And?”
Hermione laughed, nodding. “Alright then.”
“So, wait, did you…” Ron directed a glance to Hermione as she perused the document, then turned back to Harry. “Are you saying you cuddled with Malfoy?”
Harry nodded self-consciously. “Yeah. He—from what I can remember, he seemed pretty good at his job. Even when I wasn’t, uh, pleasant with him in the morning when I realised who he was.” He decided to leave out the bit about the way Malfoy smelled. “It worked.” He shrugged. “I slept.”
“But he’s— Malfoy,” Ron said.
Cringing a bit, Harry gave another, more helpless shrug. “So?” He met Ron’s eyes, which widened after a moment, then blinked several times in succession.
Ron looked at Hermione, who glanced up and between them for a moment, then began scanning the parchment again. He spread his hands. “So nothing, Harry. But, mate…” He leaned in, lowering his voice. “D’you feel safe? He might try to… hurt you or something. I know he's kept clean and you see him, but....”
Harry smiled crookedly and started to respond, but was interrupted by Hermione, voice absent as she continued to read. “He can’t. While he’s under contract, he can’t cause any physical harm to his client; it was one of the first things I checked for when I booked someone for Harry.” She looked up. “This all looks fine, really.”
“Yeah, I thought so too. I just wanted another set of eyes,” Harry said, taking it back from her. He looked at Ron. “I’m not seeing him,” he said defensively. “We run into each other. Occasionally. Like normal people. Friendly.”
“Nobody else is running into him,” Ron said under his breath.
“What?” Harry stared at him, trying to figure out what Ron meant, but Ron suddenly wouldn't meet his eyes.
“It’s fairly standard,” Hermione said, bringing the topic back. “Follows along with the contract for yesterday, only it’s set for a week. Ten-hour bookings, all-inclusive.”
“I wondered about that part,” Harry admitted, flushing. “He said something about—” He waved a vague hand. “Dinner and watching television and—and other stuff.”
“Pretty much everything except for violence of any sort is allowed. Or making intentional sexual advances; that’s grounds for immediate dismissal as a client. But you can talk and be held all night without sleeping, if that’s what you want. Don’t not sleep,” she added with a severe look, “but you could.
She waited, seeming to expect some sort of response, but Harry was still caught on the word “intentional.” He hadn’t been so far gone as to not remember what had happened when he woke up, which was compounded into awfulness by the sheer grace with which Malfoy hadn’t even alluded to it. Maybe being half-asleep was what made unintentional sexual advances okay. Although—
“I, er… I did sort of pin him down this morning,” Harry admitted, wincing.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, dismayed. She shared a look with Ron that Harry couldn’t quite interpret, and then didn’t need to when she continued, “Why couldn’t it have been the other?”
“You want me to intentionally touch him?” Harry asked, gaping.
Ron ran a hand over his face and he sighed. “Not Malfoy,” he muttered. His face had gone pale, his freckles stood out starkly. “Unless you wanted to— Just… I mean…” He looked at Hermione again, and Harry did too; she gave Ron an encouraging little nod, her mouth set in a soft frown. “We’re worried you’re… lonely. You haven't gone anywhere since you tried that club,” Ron muttered, face going red, “and saw the reporter there. Maybe that's one of the reasons this whole thing has gotten so bad.”
Harry glared at him—then, for good measure, Hermione too. “I’m not a total moron,” he said defensively. After a third look between his best friends, he threw his hands up in the air. “Fine! There’s probably a connection, is that what I should say? But not being lonely isn’t going to make my dreams go away,” he added, throat suddenly dry.
“We know, Harry.” Hermione’s eyes had softened. She inhaled slowly; a tiny crinkle appeared between her eyes. “We just want you to be happy.”
Harry wondered if they, inexplicably, thought he didn’t want to be happy, but the concern on their faces was too much to bear, and he didn’t ask. He stood, clutching the furled contract tightly in his hand. “Thanks for looking this over for me,” he said. “I’ll owl you guys in a couple of days, okay?”
“Harry,” Hermione said helplessly. Harry saw Ron touch her knee lightly, his blue eyes steady on Harry’s face, and Harry felt a flash of gratitude as she fell silent.
He waved goodbye at the Floo and forced a smile as the flash of green carried him back to his own flat. Then he Summoned a quill and signed the contract with a flourish before attaching it to Allegra, his somber-eyed barn owl. She gave him a soft hoot and nipped his fingertip affectionately before flying out. Harry watched her go and wondered exactly what the fuck he was doing.