It's three days in Emerald Hollow, before Charlie realizes what's bothering him. He passes the massive curving staircases leading up to the next floor, a frown beginning to form.
It's the stairs.
The majestic staircases that line both sides of the wall, the perfect set-up for staggered casting grounds and the pristine, perfect way they mesh too-well with everything else in the manor.
Sure, it's lovely to look at.
The Burrow never had stairs like these, after all, but he's never seen that as a loss. Whatever pieces of luxury and finery that have come his way are simply extras. He has everything he needs in his Circle.
So when he finally catches himself staring at the small door leading to the storage cabinet under the stairs, it takes five seconds to make the connection.
"Fred—George!" He calls—once.
Ethan pauses in his trek across the hall, a laundry basket perched on one hip, reaching up to take out the earbud in his right ear. "Charlie?"
Charlie flashes a quick smile—a flash fire smile—and waves him on. "I just need to see them for a minute."
Ethan's pursed lips suggest that he doesn't quite believe that, but it's Charlie, so he'll let it slide. "Don't let them run you in circles," he scolds, floating down the bannister. The three baskets of floating laundry bob down the stairs after him. "Quinn needs an escort for the grocery shopping—if I'm not through, ask one of them, please."
"Of course," Charlie says, moving out of the way of the floating laundry. He watches as Ethan pops the earbud back in, already halfway into his world of lectures and inter-realm study sessions.
Personally, laundry is a bit of a chore and he doesn't understand how Ethan can see it as 'thinking time' but he's not about to complain. They all have their strengths after all.
"Charlie?" Fred appears in the doorway, his hair looking a bit ruffled and possibly—singed?
George is right behind him, coming at a slower pace, hands shoved in his pockets, expression a bit mischievous. He also smells like smoke. "Charlie," he greets, bumping Fred as he circles around to follow Charlie's line of sight. "What is it?"
Fred nudges them both, but his own question dies on his tongue as he follows both of their gazes to the small, inconspicuous door nestled at the base of the staircase closest to them. "…oh," he says, rather quietly.
Charlie huffs. "We need to-"
"Fix it?" George offers, in a way that's sort of like asking for permission, but mostly asking whether they can change something that still disturbs all of them to this day.
"We can fix it," Fred says, lightly. "Can't we, Forge?"
George hums thoughtfully. There's a sadness in Charlie's clear blue eyes and that's something he doesn't like seeing there. Charlie is kind of their rock, a steady, commanding presence that occasionally looks the other way for some of their pranks.
Right now, Charlie is serious.
So George knows that they have to be serious too. He also knows that the way Fred has used their special nickname, that he understands too. They know what needs to be done and so it'll be done.
"Definitely can fix it," George says, patting Charlie's arm for want of something more useful to say.
"Why don't you go with Quinn?" Fred suggests. "And help him with the grocery stuff. He's stocking the pantry or something like that. Just stand behind him and scowl at the jerks."
"They aren't jerks," George says, rolling his eyes. "It's just the prats. Ignore them. Carry things. Quinn's good at being oblivious."
Charlie hesitates. "If there-"
"We'll send you a list," Fred continues. "And just get what's on there, eh? Use it from our account." His grin is sharp, showing a bit of fang and a touch of edge.
They both understand what Charlie isn't sure he wants to voice in their new home. They know what he means.
Charlie manages a smile, before bowing out. He'll go find Quinn and leave the Twins to it. That's why he's called them in the first place. Because he knew they wouldn't need words for this sort of thing.
Shopping with Quinn is a bit of an adventure, but he's halfway through everything when he runs into Hermione.
"Charlie?" Hermione calls out to him from where her shadowy entourage guards her. She's well within their reach, but makes a half-step towards him.
Quinn offers a polite curtsey and Charlie adds a smile to soften the formality off it.
It's Melacor that manages to smooth things over. He steps out with Hermione's black lace umbrella, holding it over both of them, as Hermione reaches out.
"You're—grocery shopping?" she guesses, glancing at Quinn's shopping bags.
"Something like that," Charlie says. "You're out for—a walk?"
Hermione's smile is gentle and wise. "Books, actually. There's supposed to be a hidden stall here with my favorite kind of books," she whispers.
Charlie can't help but smile, because she's one friend that has stuck with Harry through everything. Even if Lord Aiden rarely cares to let her visit alone, she still visits whenever they'll have her and Harry is always glad for those moments.
Quinn taps Charlie's arm—purely for show, Charlie knows—and points into the distance for the sake of everyone else.
Hermione follows the gesture and brightens at once. "Thank you," she says relieved. "We've been walking for a couple of hours and no one seemed to know what I was talking about."
Thank you, Charlie adds, sending a pulse of warmth through their shared bonds. Quinn is always careful of himself in moments like this, but his kindness shows through in ways that suit him well.
It's the soft blush on Quinn's face that lets Charlie know his thanks is appreciated. He watches as Hermione dispatches half of her shadowy bodyguards to retrieve the books, when he offers to accompany her.
There's a question in her glance, but she doesn't ask it.
Instead, she simply allows them to join her as they meander over to the magical stall and begin to sift through the dozens of beautiful books.
"Took you ages," Fred whines, when Charlie finally appears in the main entryway, shrunken parcels in hand. "We were waiting forever."
"Not quite forever," George says. He looks surprisingly unruffled and it suits him. "Thanks," he floats some of the parcels to his side and unwraps them with a spell.
Charlie catches Fred in a headlock for the complaint, but it's nothing more than the way they interact with each other. He's pleased with their progress, because in the time it took for a short shopping trip, the twins have done well. They've cleaned out the cabinets and turned the bottom of each respective staircase, into a hidden cove of sorts.
There's shelves for books or trinkets and a soft, fat pillow of sorts for comfort. A nightlight is installed in the corners, overall, the reading nooks—for that's what they will be—are calm and welcoming.
A nice change, Charlie thinks.
Just like the way that he can tell the twins apart now—from the way they move. It's the kind of change that suits all of them, especially with the way that he can feel Harry's muted query through their shared bonds.
"Not yet!" Fred yelps, scrambling free of Charlie's hold to dive for the parcels. "Don't let him come yet-!"
And then George is there, helping, and they're hastily stacking books and little familiar trinkets on the shelves of the new hideaways. There's a practice snitch and fat, golden bauble that looks a lot like one of Harry's attempts at gemstone crafting. Charlie stands back to the side, watching the twins go to work.
He doesn't interfere, because he can recognize what they are doing.
It's why he called them after all.
Pareyic instinct is something that cannot be denied or ignored. They are instinctively making each space as inviting and non-threatening for Harry as possible. Fred's side seems to be a bit brighter and more lively—there's more red and gold there. George's side is like him—subtle, but inviting, with oranges and golds mixed in a way that suits them.
He's glad he ran into Hermione at the market, because she's helped him to choose some of the books. He's sure that Harry will appreciate the gesture.
"…Charlie?" Harry's voice floats down the stairs. "What's going on?
Fred pops out from his nook and with a glance at George, offers a shrug to Charlie. It's good enough for now. They can fuss some more later, if necessary.
George scrambles out from the new space, pausing to carefully rearrange the pillow back where it needs to be. He charms the nightlight on and stashes his wand in his arm-holster, before hurrying to join them.
"Down here!" Charlie calls up, waiting. He knows Harry will find him. Wants Harry to find them—all three of them. Doesn't want to make a big deal out of any of this.
Even if it is.
Harry dashes down the stairs, swirling around the corner with the hint of air that is entirely all him. A secondary affinity that somehow, seems to work. His hair is sticking up all over the place, his bright green eyes brilliant and ethereal as he skids to a stop, a tentative smile blossoming on his face.
"Charlie-?" he starts to say, but the glowing lights have caught his eye. He turns then, uncaring of his original intent, now entirely distracted by this very new, unexpected thing.
Because this makes his heart ache in the very best of ways, because he'd never imagined this. Not ever! He knows what it is, what it means, what it had to take for this to happen.
He just knows.
Because it's perfect and he wishes there were words to explain why.
The cupboard under the stairs. The place where the leftovers and unwanted bits and bobs were meant to be kept. Storage. Afterthoughts. Memories he doesn't want to think about.
But these? This is different.
This is nothing like a dark little prison.
It's—sweet, he thinks.
His feet move, carrying him forward, first to the right, where he almost smiles at the thick, velvet cushion mattress that takes up the wooden seat. It smells like Fred, so he knows which one of them has actually had their claws in making this come about. There's fun things there—a box of canary creams, a preserved firework, books on pranking and a place for snacks and drinks.
Harry tries to smile, even as his lips wobble. He's so happy, he could cry.
And then he's rushing to the left, where the second space is. There's more lights in this one, and it's softer, in atmosphere and magic. Just like George's careful, sweet kisses.
The shelves hold books of all kinds of interesting things, history in Nevarah, who invented the first transportation pillars and how to charm everyday household objects. There's trinkets there too, a small silver picture frame that holds a sketch eerily similar to how he's always imagined his parents would look. A bottle of shiny, shimmering stuff—not Felix Felices, he knows—but something pretty to look at. A preserved candied fruit. A little packet of jerky.
So much like George.
"Har-ry," Charlie murmurs, seconds before he pulls Harry away from the nook and straight into his arms.
A choked sound escapes and Harry can only close his eyes and turn his face upward, as he lets himself be pulled back and into three pairs of arms—three hearts—that want him, treasure him, and love him, so very much.
"Charlie," he whispers. "Fred. George!"
"Harry," they chorus together.
And then he's crying anyway, because why not? He can cry if he wants to.
They kiss him everywhere that they can reach, hands patting reassuringly along his sides, his face and his head. Charlie bites him first—right over his claim mark.
Harry stifles a groan, head thrown back, neck exposed to the twins' ministrations. He wants to tell them thank you. To explain that this is so much more than he could've expected. That it means a lot. That it means more than he can possibly express in words.
That they thought of him, of his hurts, of his heart and they simply took care of it.
A single gesture makes his world flip upside down and then right side up.
How is he supposed to function?
It feels like home now. A real home. A true living space where there are no ghosts to haunt him.
"Shhh," George murmurs, his lips warm against Harry's cheek.
"S'alright," Fred adds, his lips pressed to base of Harry's neck.
Charlie only purrs softly, his fangs still locked in place.
And slowly—ever so slowly—Harry melts into them. This is all he's ever wanted.