A/N: This is a birthday gift for Bittsweetmis. Happy birthday! And sorry this took so long to upload, but I had to study.
Harry had two children still too young for Hogwarts and couldn't find a reliable nanny in the whole of Britain (his last nanny had built a shrine to him in his living room, and the one before her had sex with her boyfriend on his bed). He resorted to working from home most days or, on the days when that just wasn't possible, shoving them into the arms of Hermione or Mrs. Weasley. But Mrs. Weasley was on a cruise 'round the world with her husband and Hermione had been promoted to a big project that required absolute silence for her to use the best of her abilities.
This left Harry desperate and bereft of anchor. He called up his friends from work with reluctance, tried some of Ginny's friends that he'd never liked and hadn't bothered to keep in touch with after their separation. No one was free.
And then, as he was thumbing through his address book yet again, his eyes landed on Charlie Weasley. He frowned, and then decided that it was worth a shot.
Charlie answered his call with an eagerness that blew Harry away. He didn't know Charlie super well even though Charlie had retired from Dragon-Taming three years previous (he moved to back home the same month Harry and Ginny began living separately) to help George run the shop. They were friendly at family gatherings, but Harry had been avoiding those lately. Ron was one of the few people in his family outside of his parents that understood why Harry and Ginny didn't work out. The resentment was never voiced, but Harry could feel it.
His brother-in-law readily agreed to watch the kids, and even offered to have them hang around the shop for as long as Harry needed them supervised. Harry nearly fainted with gratefulness, and Charlie just laughed and told him that that was what family was for.
Albus and Lily returned from their day with Charlie brimming with praise for their new babysitter. Albus enthused that he was 'so cool!' and Lily liked that he let his shoulders for as long as she wanted to.
A week later and Harry was again in need of a sitter, and Charlie sprang to the front of his mind. He called and asked him, somewhat shyly because it was a weekend and there was a chance that the kids would need to stay overnight. Charlie was quite the ladies man last Harry had checked, and he worried that he might have a date.
To his surprise Charlie was free and readily agreed to keep the kids overnight.
When Harry stopped by the shop to pick them up Sunday afternoon, Charlie met him the hallway of the flat above the shop and whispered that they were napping. He asked if Harry would be willing to let them rest for a bit longer, and maybe have a cup of tea while he waited?
Harry could find no fault in this, and welcomed the chance to chat with Charlie. He noticed that George was nowhere to be found, and remarked upon it. Charlie snorted, sitting opposite Harry at the kitchen table.
"All George does is lie around the flat like a rug. I wouldn't be surprised if he woke up some day and found he couldn't move."
Harry raised his eyebrows, "Really? But the shop has been doing really well lately. Are you manning it alone?"
Charlie raised a shoulder, as if to say, 'what can you do?'
"Does…does your mum know about this?"
Charlie sighed, "I think so. But its between George and George, what's going on in his head. I'm not going to interfere, and besides he plays a lot less pranks on me these days. I don't miss waking up to a face of shaving cream. He makes a new product once every few months, and he's still eating, so I'm not going to criticize him. He lost a twin. That's like losing a…a, well, there's no comparison."
Harry nodded, "I get what you mean, yeah."
They talked about their respective jobs and why Charlie had given up Dragon Taming. Somehow they ended up talking about Harry and Ginny's estrangement. Harry was at first uncomfortable, not knowing what Charlie was going to say to him. Charlie laid all his fears to rest, bringing up some funny stories of old girlfriends he'd had that behaved similarly to Ginny.
Their conversation stretched more than an hour long, and it was only when Albus came strolling into the kitchen for a snack that Harry realized the kids were up. Albus whined about how being nine made him way, way too old for naps, and Lily sleepily laid her doll head against Harry's shoulder. He petted her hair and pulled her into his lap, asking Charlie if he was free later in the week during the afternoons.
"Harry, I am free all the time. I have no life outside of this shop, and the kids seem to like it here. If you needed to leave them here for days at a time I wouldn't mind. Albus is quite the little man and Lily is just a perfect pet to have around. And they don't eat much, so don't even dream of paying me for food like you did last time."
Harry felt overwhelmed by Charlie's generosity, and couldn't help but smile. Charlie's eyes flicked to his mouth and stayed there for several seconds and then he looked away, hunching his shoulders slightly. Harry noticed this in passing but didn't think much of it.
Over the next few months, Harry's kids practically lived at the shop. Their presence seemed to revive George, who moved around a lot more and began designing a new product every month, and then every two weeks.
Harry spent a lot of time chatting with Charlie when he came to pick the kids up or drop them off, and found himself spending the few weekends he had off at the shop doing pro bono clerk work. His presence boosted the shop's popularity further, as the Wizarding public was still rather star struck by him.
Sometimes Harry would catch Charlie looking at him for no reason, a small soft smile on his face. He didn't know what the smiles were for, but he liked them and said nothing. The shop and the rooms above it became his favorite place to be in the world. There he felt more at home than he did at home, his house having felt 'off' ever since Ginny left.
Something about Charlie drew him in, and he knew Charlie must felt the same pull. Harry began attending family gatherings again, and invariably he took his seat beside Charlie. They always seemed to end up out in the garden talking or just walking around together in silence while the kids played with Ron and Hermione's brood.
One night in September, Harry finished his mission early. It was two in the morning and the kids were at Charlie's, so he had some debate with himself as to whether he ought to enjoy having the house to himself or go and see if Charlie was still up. He chose the latter and stepped as quietly as he could out of the private fireplace of the flat.
There was a dim light shining from the sitting room (the fireplace was in the kitchen, and the brothers sometimes roasted potatoes wrapped in foil in its embers). He toed off his shoes so he wouldn't get mud on their floor and moved to the sitting room. Peeking inside, he saw Charlie asleep on the sofa with a book on advertising open on his chest.
He wore blue striped pajamas just like Ron used to back at school, before he took to sleeping naked so his skin could 'breathe'.
Charlie looked impossibly young in the pink light of the lamp, lips parted and arms curled around his book. Harry smiled and moved to turn off the lamp. He'd come back tomorrow rather than wake Charlie.
But his foot snagged on one of Lily's dolls, and the toy let out a squeak. Charlie started awake and Harry winced. Charlie blinked muzzily, looking around for what woke him up. His eyes drifted to Harry, and he smiled. He yawned, set aside his book and beckoned for Harry to sit beside him.
Harry sat and immediately noticed that Charlie hadn't correctly buttoned his shirt. His eyes were drawn to the stripe of freckly flesh at his collarbone and its twin by his navel. His face felt hot, and he couldn't say why.
Charlie asked him how his mission had gone, and Harry summarized it for him, leaving out the dangerous parts out of habit. Albus often asked him about work, and Harry didn't want his young son to know how much danger Harry was in sometimes. Charlie's knowing expression told him that Charlie knew he was holding back.
When he'd finished, they just sat there smiling at each other. Charlie's eyes were still sleepy, and Harry was starting to feel the exhaustion that followed the end of an adrenaline rush.
Without any lead-up, Charlie asked if Harry wanted to come to bed with him. Harry flushed and spluttered, but then Charlie laughed and said,
"Not like that!" and then his face changed, and Harry felt some of his adrenaline return, a faint buzzing in his ears and an extra thump to his heartbeat.
"Unless you want it to be like that," Charlie finished; his blue eyes were darker than Harry had ever seen them. He swallowed.
Perhaps he hesitated just a moment too long, because Charlie stood and stiffly said goodnight. Harry clumsily stood and reached for his sleeve. He caught it and Charlie paused, looking over his shoulder at him.
His lips tasted like a queer blend of honey and ginger.
Come next morning, Lily toddled into Charlie's bed and curled up between her father and Charlie, listening to them sleep. She sucked her thumb and tucked her head into the crook of Charlie's arm. Charlie tightened his arm and tickled her until she squealed and kicked Harry in the ribs. Harry sat bolt upright, immediately wide awake, and grinned down at his daughter.
Both adults were relieved that they'd thought to put on clothes again last night after their other non-sleep-related activities.