His shoulders shook, before the hand on his back stilled. A brief pause.
More hesitantly, another “Mr. Styles?”
Harry blearily turned his head on his pillow, facing wherever the voice had come from. It was early. This he could tell, because he could still feel sleep against his bones like a waterlogged ship. Heavy, sinking, and deeply unenjoyable to be aware of. He grunted, barely, acknowledging that he was halfway between waking up and falling back asleep.
“Cherries or stars?”
“Wha’?” he mumbled, the question catching him off-guard. It was enough to cast off exhaustion’s net, for him to cross the border into consciousness. Harry opened his eyes groggily, one of his hands slipping out from beneath the covers to wipe away the sleep from his eyes’ inner corners.
“Cherries, or stars? I gotta impress Molly, she doesn’t have her ears pierced. Like, at all,” Charlotte continued, obviously feeling more confident now that Harry was awake. She was standing by the edge of his bed, a couple of inches away from his side. Her arm was still outstretched, her body leaning forward as if a moat was around his bed, as if she were too nervous to come closer. Not nervous enough to still wake him up, though.
Her arm lifted so she could show off her ears to him, one at a time. One had a pair of cherry earrings dangling, and the other had a star stud.
“Wha’ time is ‘t?” his voice cracked. Harry tried to flop his head back down on the pillow to have a glimpse of the alarm clock, but Charlotte quickly moved to stand in front of it. Her hair was already held back by a headband, meaning that she was starting her Prep Time before school. Harry had learned this on Day Three, when he had asked her why she always took it off before school. If she wanted to wear it to school, he had felt, it was a nice enough band that it shouldn’t take so much deliberation.
That question had earned him a car ride’s discussion of why she had to keep her hair out of her face, before she put on moisturizer and put her earrings in. Something about having a fresh face and whatnot, plus other details that frankly went over his head. He had just nodded, making small noises of agreement as Patrick groaned and Elise watched her sister, with wide eyes and careful attention.
Harry assumed the reasoning of the headband had something to do with those beauty gurus Charlotte had showed him the night before. Charlotte was a sweet girl, but sometimes she confused Harry. A lot.
“It’s not late,” Charlie muttered, lifting up her hands to smooth down her hair behind the headband.
“How early is ‘t?” he compromised, throwing an arm back behind his head and looking up at the girl. A yawn pulled his mouth back and he stretched a bit, from where he was at, feeling the day settle in against his back and his shoulders.
Charlotte shuffled her feet from where she stood, before turning back to the door. She bit her lip, before making her decision. Harry watched her, amused.
“See ya’ later, g’morning!” she skipped out of the room without a glance behind her, slapping against the door to slam it shut, leaving the room severely quiet in comparison.
Harry couldn’t help chuckling, before taking a proper look over at his alarm clock. The numbers 6:59 were startlingly red, and his laugh turned into a groan. The type that began from the depths of his ribs and rattled his throat. He threw his head against the pillows once more. Nothing like waking up right before the alarm was supposed to go off.
The morning was steadily growing into a routine. Harry was automatically snatching a sweater from his desk chair, yanking it over his head, exchanging his plaid pajama bottoms for jeans, glancing at his email as he hurriedly brushed his teeth - all before he left his new bedroom to start his nanny duties.
Harry felt like he had read somewhere, perhaps in one of those chain emails Niall kept sending, that a habit only took a couple of weeks to form. He was already two weeks in his new job, so he figured it would make sense for his actions to start feeling natural.
And they did, somewhat, although each day did bring with it a sense of chaos. Perhaps that would begin feeling natural, too, Harry thought to himself, as he poured Patrick, Elise, and Trevor cereal and set almond milk out on the kitchen table. The fruit bowl was in the middle, and each of the kids reached forward to snatch up their preference.
“Be right back, start eatin’,” Harry pointed at their dishes, “Patrick, peel Trevor’s orange, okay?”
The eldest boy nodded sternly, smug with the small responsibility bestowed on his shoulders, before turning to his youngest brother. Harry left the room, counting the kids in his head as he did so. No matter how often he would go over their daily morning routines mentally, the fear of missing a child was always prevalent. Miles and Charlotte were famously late, so they typically had breakfast on the car ride to school.
Elise unscrewed the milk and immediately, in one fluid motion, let go mid-pour and dunked the entire bottle on the table. A little “oh” left her mouth as it happened, clunking together with the noise of the container glugging its life out. She stood motionless for a few moments before sitting back down, setting the bottle right-side up.
The three children watched the milk flood to the edges of the tables before dripping, slowly, off the corners.
“What was that?!” Harry yelled from down the hall, half of his body in the dryer. Miles stood, nervously, outside the laundry room, clutching onto the edges of his navy blue sweater. He had lost his special Monday jeans again, the ones Harry was certain he had dropped off at Miles’ room the night before. But laundry of five children was a lot to keep track of, so Harry had agreed to search the laundry room for the jeans.
“None’f your business!” Patrick screamed back, hurriedly dashing into the kitchen to snatch up the roll of paper towels, as well as the cloth hanging off the dishwasher. Trevor, bored of the scene apparently, turned back to his cereal and spared a glance at his half-peeled fruit.
“Don’t say anything,” Patrick advised Elise, handing her some towels. The girl quietly took them and turned to the table, seemingly still a bit stunned over the spill.
They sloppily cleaned up the mess, setting down towels to soak up the floor and then shoving the soggy papers in the trash. Feeling the adrenaline kick their tiny bodies into gear, Patrick hurriedly peeled Trevor’s orange, who glumly looked at his siblings (was never a morning person), as Elise carefully poured almond milk into all three bowls. Things were going smoothly, and Harry would never know what had happened.
After several minutes of searching, Harry concluded to the young boy that no, his jeans were not in the laundry, and if he wouldn’t mind checking his room again, Harry would deeply appreciate it.
Just as Harry had expected ten minutes ago when he began looking in the dryer, Miles found his jeans on top of his dresser, exactly where Harry had left them. With a cheeky grin to his nanny, to which Harry responded with a tired thumbs-up as he left the room, Miles continued on with the rest of his morning.
Harry headed back to the kitchen, already fearing whatever mess Patrick had most likely caused in there. Before crossing into the main foyer, which would lead him on into the kitchen, Harry stopped. Took a breath. Gave himself a short pep talk. It was also a part of his morning routine, had become ingrained within the rest of the habits formed.
It wasn’t often that Harry had needed to question his judgment. His mother always said he had a good head on his shoulders, enough common sense to not need constant supervision. As he grew older, and became more interested in music, he had never needed to reassess his approach to it. Because it was mainly opinion, yeah? Of course, there were better opinions than others – but when it came to Mitch’s music, Harry’s opinion was typically the one he went with. They sort of harmonized with their take on how to create, which was why they made such good partners.
With kids though, everything was different. He was in charge, working with people who were significantly shorter than him and told not to question his authority. Situations seemed more catastrophic than they had back when he was simply a bystander, watching a parent deal with a temper tantrum. Plus, he had Y/N to think about. He didn’t want her disappointed in him, although she hadn’t seemed to hold an opinion either way of how well he was doing.
The past two weeks, Y/N had taken the time to explain a lot of what was normal around the house, made sure Harry knew where everything was, who to call if something happened and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. She had pre-made several meals, kept in the freezer, which helped Harry loads the first few days of managing the After School crowd. How these kids had so many friends, Harry had no clue, but there seemed to be a new child every five feet in the house. Thankfully, Mondays were a No-Friends-Over day, as Y/N explained that she felt she had deserved at least one day a week to just manage five kids from afternoon to night. Harry was thankful she had made that a rule, too.
Now, he was more adept at how to approach the day. He would make the kids’ school lunches the night before, make breakfast as soon as he woke up, and focus on making dinner while they were at school. If he had errands to run, he would go before picking the kids up. Mitch had told him that he wasn’t needed at the studio for a while, mostly to try and put Harry’s nerves at ease. Harry was already a bit of a people-pleaser, the desire to have everyone around him taken care of ran naturally in his veins. He didn’t want to be sacrificing the job he moved overseas for to watch a bunch of kids, but understood the latter would take a larger adjustment period than messing around in a studio.
He was planning on dropping by after sending the kids off to school, though, before rushing back home to begin cooking the dinner and doing his own laundry. The afternoons were the only alone time he had, except for late at night, and Harry had a new tendency of hooking up his phone to the Bluetooth speakers and jamming out as he did his chores, working on his singing as he went.
The mornings recently, however, were typically spent with Y/N helping Harry out, since he was still a bit new to the child-care game. She showed him where their favorite foods were for breakfast, how late Miles and Charlotte would run getting ready, how to convince Trevor that yes he needed to go to school today, and to prepare to pack Elise’s current book in her backpack (because she would surely forget and fake some imaginary illness in order to be sent home). Harry had readily gotten into the swing of things, inserted himself somehow into the daily schedule of the hectic family.
Y/N dashed into the kitchen as Harry entered beside her, her fingers quickly pulling her hair into a semblance of a ponytail. Her work attire was already on, the blouse neatly pressed and her pencil skirt zipped up in the back; although Harry worked on the kids’ laundry, Y/N had insisted she was able to do her own. Frankly, she had suggested that she and Harry work out a schedule for them both to work on the dishes and laundry, but Harry wouldn’t listen. It was his job, after all, and he could see the relief literally bring her shoulders down a touch, loosen up the tightness in her back.
“Woke up late,” she managed to squeeze out, tearing a banana off of the bunch and sliding back into the hallway. Harry nodded briskly, eyeing up the three kids sat on the kitchen bench with slight distrust.
“Anythin’ happen?” he asked slowly, looking over their dishes and the area. Nothing seemed out of place, though, and Patrick just gave his “I messed up and you’ll never figure out how” shit-grin, while Elise avoided eye contact entirely. Trevor was still looking down at his bowl, stirring the cereal-milk around with his spoon clutched in his whole fist.
“Mr. Styles!” Charlotte yelled as she barreled into the room, sliding forward on her socks as her arms waggled dangerously around her body. Harry’s hand shot out to hold onto her before she tumbled into something, and she straightened herself out breathlessly.
“Cherries,” he answered, not needing to hear the question again, and Charlotte nodded thoughtfully.
“Yeah, but I like stars more,” she said, looking down at the floor and towards her siblings. None of them seemed interested in her battle against societal popularity, although Patrick stuck his tongue out at his sister as a general good-morning.
Harry sighed, throwing his hands up. “Okay, then, stars,” he said, half-wondering if there was a right answer at all.
“But the cherries are dangly. Molly’s gotta notice them first, I can’t bring them up,” Charlotte groaned, plopping herself on one of the kitchen chairs. She looked devastated, torn between two life decisions that could change everything. And, Harry supposed, at her age – they could.
“One cherry, one star,” Harry replied over his shoulder, moving towards the pantry to get Charlie her breakfast. She would eat cereal, but typically out of a plastic bag, with no milk. Whatever got her fed before school worked for Harry, but he did find it a bit odd. She would eat the normal cereal before the marshmallows, too, if the cereal was particularly sugary. Like Harry said, sometimes Charlotte confused him.
“That would be sick,” Miles entered the kitchen, moving underneath Harry’s arm to enter the pantry. His hand shot out to reach for a package of Pop-Tarts, the crinkling of the silver material alerting Harry to what Miles was trying to do.
“Nu-uh,” Harry reached down to take the boy’s hand out of the box. “Not proper breakfast food, Miles. Gotta have somethin’ else.”
“Same sugar content as in our cereal, Harry,” Miles spoke clippedly, which was a general clue that it had come from some YouTube video and not Miles’ genuine thought. Harry had to follow the rules Y/N had given him for breakfasts a few days ago, though, so he shook his head and pointed down at the cereal bowl waiting for him on the table.
Miles had situated the easiest to calling Harry by his first name, although Harry had informed all the children that he was fine with it.
Patrick called him Styles, because Pat was at the age where last names were the coolest shit. Charlotte stubbornly called him Mr. Styles, because she was wholeheartedly convinced her mother would have a heart attack if she overheard her kid using an adult’s first name. Which wasn’t the case, since Harry had ran the idea by Y/N first, but Harry figured that with enough time, Charlie would come around. He hoped she would, anyway, because he didn’t like being seen as some scary adult figure.
Elise never called him by any name, but rather had the simple tendency of moving towards his side and gently tugging on his sleeve whenever she needed him. Despite not using her words, Elise had begun to look him in the eye when she asked her question, as he crouched down to hear her properly, which Harry considered a great success. Trevor usually forgot Harry’s name and would call him “Nanny”, which Harry didn’t often respond to (not out of rudeness, he simply forgot most of the time that’s what he was) and Miles would whisper-yell to his brother, “It’s Harry, Trev. He’s got a name.” to which Trevor would say “Harry-Nanny” and Miles would groan.
Y/N swept into the kitchen once more, tossing the banana peel into the trash and pulling on her tan flats with her other free hand.
“My train’s leaving soon,” she told Harry, although he had already known this since she had informed him the night before. Typically, when Y/N had early shifts, she would ask Mrs. Elliot to drive the kids to school. It worked out okay, since Elliot had a huge car with more seats than people in her own family, but it definitely was not ideal. Mrs. Elliot had a tendency of trying to re-mother Y/N’s kids, which irked Y/N relentlessly. She was doing a fairly good job so far, she absolutely did not need her kids to start questioning her ability to take care of them. Harry’s arrival in her life, therefore, added on another relief to her daily worries.
Y/N wasn’t sure how to feel about Harry yet. He was gracious – sometimes exceedingly so, his multiple ‘thank yeh’s over her bringing bath towels to his room had startled her considerably. Harry was attentive to how Y/N preferred to run things in her house. They often stayed up beyond the kids’ bedtime, going over the questions Harry had jotted down throughout the day. The ones the kids had asked, or situations that had come up, that Harry had wanted to make sure he could handle appropriately in the future.
Those moments had dialed down over the past few days, as Harry’s grip over the situation tightened and he felt more comfortable making decisions independently.
“Gotta go, chickpeas. I’ll see you tonight,” she promised her kids, moving forward to smacking kisses on the sides of their giggling cheeks. Patrick attempted to wiggle away from her kisses, which made her gasp in mock-offense.
“Gettin’ too old for your mother’s kisses, Pat?” she teased, as he tried to straighten out his toothy smile into a more serious pout. Harry was by the kitchen counter, pouring Y/N and himself a coffee. She had one of the nice pots, the ones Harry could set up to start brewing at 6:50 so it would be hot and fresh by the time they needed it. And they definitely needed it.
“Love you!” Miles reached an arm back to half-hug his mother as she came around, his other arm working the cereal into his mouth like rapid fire.
“Love you most on toast, sunshine,” Y/N replied back easily. It was their routine, Y/N and Miles, something they always said to each other. Harry didn’t quite get it, he had tried to ask Patrick if there was a meaning, but the boy had shrugged and moved the conversation to the video game he wanted Harry to play with him.
Y/N squeezed Trevor’s cheeks, her gentle goodbye to the boy who was grumbling into his cereal and splashing the spoon against the milk.
Harry held out the mug of coffee to Y/N as she approached him in the kitchen, which she gratefully accepted which a prolonged blink and heavy nod.
“You’re a life-saver,” she mumbled in-between sips of caffeine, reaching up to fix several stray hairs into her ponytail. “Thanks.”
“How late’s your shift, tonight?” Sometimes Y/N would work doubles, which meant she would get home around 10 o’clock, long after the kids had gone to bed and Harry was up emailing Mitch ideas and trying to reason with drunk Niall.
“Not late. Might even let me off early, depends if Reagan’s in,” Y/N shrugged, before checking her watch. “I gotta get going. If there’s anything you need, or if something comes up, text me.”
“’f course. Have a good shift,” Harry nodded at her, as she moved into the main foyer to grab her purse and belongings. With the sound of the front door closing, Harry clapped his hands, swaying back and forth on his socked feet.
“Who’s ready fo’ school?” he attempted at a rally and received only vague, uninterested responses from most of the kids – save Charlotte, who preened under the thought that she would show up and dazzle her fellow classmates, ears dangling or studded with a metal symbol of wealth. Despite the fact they most likely came from Claire’s.
“Do I have to go?” Trevor mumbled quietly, looking up at Harry with large puppy-dog eyes. Miles groaned in his seat and slouched down, his shoulders by his ears, fairly disgruntled at having Trevor try, yet again, to woo his way out of an education.
Harry’s heart even melted, just a tad, watching the adorable boy blink soulfully and try to make his lower lip jut out even further, but Harry resisted the urge to agree.
“Yes!” he cleared his throat and clap once more loudly, “Let’s go get ready – c’mon, up ‘n at it,” he cheered them onward, and with sullen glares back at him, they conceded. As they begrudgingly rose to finish prepping, he slyly slid two Pop-Tarts into the toaster.
“Y/N never said I couldn’t have ‘em,” he cheekily grinned to himself and turned to the sink, rolling up his sleeves before beginning to wash up. The suds and soaps were his least favorite part of his job. Even at his old home, dishes were hardly ever done and his laundry was more of a hunt for what was clean, than actually cleaning. Living with such a large family was an adjustment for Harry, especially since he didn’t only have himself to think of. It was intimidating, at times, but for the most part, Harry felt pretty fulfilled.
His plan had been to move in with Niall for a few weeks until he could find his own place, perhaps seeing if he could find a part-time job for when he wasn’t needed in the studio. What Harry hadn’t particularly expected, was how busy Mitch and Niall would both be. Niall was out for the majority of the day, either at his job or out with friends. Ni invited Harry out, as well, but Harry had the odd feeling that he wasn’t the best match with Niall’s work friends. Y/N hadn’t been there, though, although Harry assumed she didn’t go out much, given that she would have five children waiting at home.
Mitch had a part-time job already, as well, and it took up more of his time than either Mitch or Harry expected. It was a sturdy job, brought in enough of a paycheck to help offset most of the costs of creating music. However, it meant Harry wasn’t needed often at the studio.
So, for the most part, Harry would be alone.
Y/N’s job offer was a bit of a heaven-send, in that sort of way. Harry tended to enjoy emotionally recharging when he was alone, in the quiet of the night or the swirls of the morning. But it had gotten to be too much, and Harry found himself staying in more as a force of habit than actually having nothing to do. Getting out of commitments and genuinely finding himself cleaning up Niall’s apartment instead of going outside.
Plus, when the kids were at school, Harry was alone. He could recharge then – in the car, on the way to the studio, or Niall’s, or to the grocery store – Harry had formed routines that could give his life an overall balance. Even with the chaos of 5 kids, it was manageable. Harry was doing fine.
Charlotte was not doing fine.
Harry had decided to walk them to the doors of the school, since it had been raining and he wanted to make sure they were safe and dry. Elise held on tightly to Harry’s left hand, as his right gripped the umbrella over them. Patrick was walking next to Miles, deep in discussion about some type of trading card they would offer a kid in their class. Trevor slouched behind Harry, walking a bit slowly – but every time the boy would come to a complete stop, Harry would stop and hold up the other kids as well, so Trevor had learned to just give up and keep walking.
Charlotte was not doing fine because of the woman next to Harry. Molly’s mother, with her child firmly grasped onto her arm, was walking beside the babysitter, her rosy lips painted into an overly excited smile.
“Oh, are you Y/N’s new babysitter?” she asked, eyebrows raising in feigned surprise. “I’m Jillian Placard, head of the PTA. Y/N brought us your application last week. Didn’t mention you’d be bringing in the kids so much, though,” and she gave him a once-over, her growing smile implying approval.
“Uh, yes ma’am,” he offered back as a reply, flashing her a smile and looking back down at his kids. Y/N had told him that she would need to give his information to the school board so he could be registered in the system, in order to pick up the kids and drop them off. He hadn’t minded, although he hadn’t quite thought it would be a discussion among the members.
“And you’re British?!” Jill laughed, the type that teetered off the end. Harry just nodded, thankful that the doors were near.
Charlotte didn’t mind so much that this woman was speaking to Harry; in fact, Charlie had been telling Harry he had to “get himself out there” sooner or later - or else he would be one of the old, creepy guys on the park benches everyone avoided. Harry just laughed and messed up her hair with one of his hands, which in turn made her squeal and run out of the room.
No, it was Molly that was pissing Charlotte off. She was walking in a completely straight line, one Mary Jane shoe in front of the other, her arms swinging primly at her sides. And her ears, pierced brand-new, with diamond studs glittering from the lobes to match her mega-watt smile plastered on her face. Molly, the coolest girl in the grade, who Charlotte had been trying to talk to for the last two months. And now Molly had earrings? It completely set back Charlie’s plan by, like, five billion years.
Charlie’s star studs felt worthless next to such glittery ones. Studs with no design seemed infinitely more grown up than designed ones, anyway, and her cheeks were flushed red for the entire walk up the path.
Her face resembled one of a sour lemon as they approached the school building, and she almost missed it when Jillian Placard asked for Harry’s number.
“Just in case I ever need a babysitter. My husband’s out of the picture, y’ know, it can be hard,” Jillian explained, holding out an iPhone with one hand. Harry had been holding open the door for everyone, while closing up the umbrella on the side, and was now blankly staring at her phone. He was a bit slow on the uptake at times, when women were trying to be sweet on him, and Niall had tried his hardest to explain that an attractive guy with kids was catnip for pretty much everyone interested in men – but Harry hadn’t listened.
After a few, awkward seconds, Harry finally gathered enough words.
“Don’t think I could be much help, really - my kids have meh pretty busy. ‘m sure there are other sitters lookin’ for work, around town, if yeh wanted to try them.”
Jillian didn’t look too pleased by his answer but accepted it nonetheless, a professional smile overtaking the tips of her teeth as she brought Molly into the building.
“Absolutely, will do. Have a nice day, Mr. Styles.”
Harry nodded his goodbye to her, his attention more focused on Elise tugging on his sleeve. Patrick, Miles, and Charlotte – with half-hearted goodbyes to Harry and their focus on their friends within their classrooms – dashed into the building, their lunchboxes swinging against their sides. Trevor waited next to Elise, as Harry usually walked them to their respective classrooms as they were both a bit too shy to go on alone.
Harry knelt down by Elise, while gently tugging Trevor’s thumb out of his mouth. The boy made a face at Harry but complied, resorting to looking over the giant posters promoting Reading and Learning on the walls.
“What’s wrong, beautiful?” Harry asked her, and Elise’s fingers twirled against each other. She looked down at her fists, mumbling mainly in their direction and completely missing Harry’s person. He was used to this, though, and made out what he could.
“I wanna hug. Momma always gives us hugs before school.”
Harry blinked a few times before it settled that this wasn’t some type of whine from Elise about the absence of her mother, but more of a statement and perhaps a request.
“Well,” he began, tilting his head to the side and looking at the girl with a slight grin. “I’m not your mum, but I can try it if you’d like...”
Elise’s arms immediately went around Harry’s neck, giving him a quick squeeze good-bye before she walked through the doors. The hug barely lasted a second, but Harry’s heart grew tremendously; Trevor bumbled up, his lunchbox clumsily moving in front of his legs, and he also gave Harry a one-arm hug goodbye.
"Don’t make me go,” Trevor whispered in Harry’s ear, and although the boy didn’t understand how melodramatic it had sounded, Harry burst out laughing regardless. The boy had sounded so desperate, so sad, so tired, but Harry knew just the same that when he showed up to pick them all up, Trevor would be the last one out, complaining about having to leave his friends.
“Ah, c’mon you troublemaker, let’s get yeh educated.”
And with that, with Trevor and Elise holding tightly onto each of Harry’s hands, they walked through the halls of Linsville Elementary, ready for another day.
“How’s the job going?” Mitch asked, the familiar noises of his guitar tuning twanging softly in the background. Harry sat next to him, on one of the large crate boxes that had magically been designated ‘chairs’ by decree of the Mitch and Harry Budget.
The entire studio was a bit small, with numerous do-it-yourself projects scattered along the floors and walls to try and enhance the place’s sound. It was why Mitch bought the small shack to begin with, instead of buying an actual place to stay.
He would go over to his girlfriend’s when he truly missed the sense of having a home, or when he was convinced he had become too close to the place to absorb its energy for creation. There has to be distance, separation, when it came to artistry – which Mitch and Harry recognized, but neither had the paycheck for. The way music vibrated from the corners of the space, though, and how it would absorb the right amount of tremor within the notes – that was what drew Mitch into signing the contract.
“Good,” Harry mumbled, picking at his fingernails a bit. He had missed Mitch, he had missed being able to curse without looking around for children, he had missed being able to let his guard down. All he had to worry about was himself, when he was out of the house. Despite feeling selfish about enjoying being away from the kids, Harry felt more relaxed than he had in the past two weeks.
“I’m sorta feeling like I could be doing better,” he went on, and Mitch hummed noncommittally. “Like, there’s a lot of stuff I dunno how to answer, cause Y/N’s not there.”
They were quiet for a few minutes. That was their typical dynamic, the strumming music in the air being the only noise, as they each stewed in their thoughts. Harry appreciated that, the kind of quietness without silence they could offer each other. A break from the hectic world and whatnot. He had really missed the guy, when an ocean had separated them and Harry was stuck in his old hometown.
Harry nodded as Mitch began creating some sort of melody, the mood to it not quite tacked down yet. It was a tricky one, somehow escaping their attempts for perfection and emotion. The notes were exact and the rhythm was alluring, but the woman within lacked depth. Harry closed his eyes to try and listen to her more clearly, hear what was missing and how to fix it.
“She didn’t hire you to be another her, man,” Mitch put down the guitar slightly, the notes ceasing to push forth. The guitar rested on his hip. “Y/N, is it?”
Harry nodded. They had met, briefly, when Y/N wanted to see if Mitch was as tame as Harry had suggested. It seemed Mitch had passed the test, so a trip to the studio was a possibility for an After School Activity. It hadn’t happened yet, though, as Harry was trying to keep the studio a separate entity in his life.
“Y/N needs you to be you, that’s why you got hired, yeah?”
For the hundredth time, Mitch was speaking pure wisdom in such a offhand way, his eyes soft and sensitive and his voice low and casual. Harry appreciated Mitch so much, they were like brothers in an emotional sense. Always there for each other, always picking the other up when things got rough.
Harry nodded again, scratching his nose and making a scrunched up face. He supposed his friend was right. Harry hadn’t been dealing with situations in the way he normally would’ve, in his purpose to keep a fairly normal house. His clothing hadn’t been too extreme (which meant half his closet was still at Niall’s) and Harry found himself in the familiar predicament of wanting to seem Adult, without genuinely feeling like he was one.
“Yeah, I guess. Just don’t wanna mess up.”
“You’re going to mess up. Best to just accept it, and focus on not freaking out when it happens,” Mitch looked off against the wall of the room, and continued playing his guitar with random notes and melody changes.
Harry hummed and jotted down some words on his notepad, some lyrics floating out of the notes for him. He didn’t find himself particularly musically talented but enjoyed the process nonetheless, helping Mitch out with lyrics and music. He even helped record a song or two, but he didn’t let Mitch release those versions, out of nervousness that people wouldn’t like them. Mitch did have a small, loyal following that obsessed over the music, as well as Mitch’s elusive personality. Harry was more in the background, not quite known by the fans, and sort of liked it that way.
“I’ve gotta get goin’, gotta make the dinner and pick the kids up,” Harry got up and picked up his coat, giving Mitch a hi-five. The other man just nodded and continued playing, never phased, as Harry walked out.
On his way to the car, he couldn’t get Charlotte’s earrings out of his head. It had been bothering him a bit, how sad she looked when she saw Molly and how excited she had been at the beginning of the day. He wanted to do something special for her, and while he had an idea or two - he hadn’t had the confidence to go forth and make it happen. After speaking to Mitch, though, Harry pulled his phone out of his pocket as he started up the car, rubbing his hands together for warmth as the number was dialed.
“Hey, Niall? Do yeh still have that welding machine from uni?”
Niall’s laughter echoed against the car, and Harry couldn’t help but grin himself.
“Fuck yeah I do, Styles. Come ove’ now.”
Charlotte was face-down on her mattress, her arms limp by her sides, feeling awfully sorry for herself. What had started as such a great day had ended in terrible travesty; Molly had received all the attention and praise from the class for her expensive-looking earrings (despite them totally being from Claire’s) and thus Charlie was convinced the night would continue on endlessly and the sun would never bother to meet the horizon again. It was just darkness from here on out, never a glimpse off the light.
All because Molly had had her ears pierced.
These thoughts, and others, were tormenting her mind as her bedroom door slowly creaked opened. Harry entered, having seen Charlotte run into her room after Patrick made an insensitive comment about earrings (honestly the nerve of some boys) during the after-dinner TV time. The lights were off, however, and Harry was confused until he saw the exhausted lump of a sad girl on the bed.
Harry softly called out, “Hey, how’s it goin’ in here?”
A muffled yell into the pillow was his only answer, and Harry took it as a yes, Harry, please come in, I might be upset now but I promise I’ll be okay shortly.
“I’ve got somethin’ for yeh,” he tried again, moving towards the side of her bed and sitting gently on the edge. Charlie lifted her head, somewhat, from the pillow. Her eyes were squinted and her hair was matted crazily, but Harry managed to bite back his smile when he saw her pursed pout. Her stuffed animals had been carelessly tossed off the bed, the bears and whatnot crowded upon Elise’s comforter in the bed nearby.
“What’s that?” she asked, as Harry held up the box. It was a small container meant for guitar strings, but had been emptied out when Mitch last restrung the instruments. Harry had found it in the glovebox of his car and figured it would work well for a present, considering his budget and that he was running low on time, between Niall’s place and needing to make dinner, before picking the kids up.
“Somethin’ to cheer you up,” he sang-said, waving the box slightly in the air. Something rattled within, which caught her attention. With the dramatic effects of a washed-up actress attempting to claim the Hollywood recognition within her own life, as opposed to on the screen, she pushed herself up and slouched against the wall, glumly looking back at Harry.
“Here,” Harry held out the box, and Charlotte automatically replied with a ‘thank you’ before even opening it, to which Harry smiled and nodded. The kids were polite, Y/N had raised them to be conscious of the good things in their life and to appreciate them.
A tuft of tissue paper poofed out of the box as she opened it, and when Charlie looked inside, at first she seemed confused, before her lips parted in complete shock.
The base of the earrings were a line of diamonds, outlined with gold and edged ridges. A dainty chain extended downward, and the charms on the ends were a golden C and a golden cherry. Everything was sprayed gold, and if Charlotte had her attention on how they had come to be, she would’ve seen the weld marks along the back of the earrings – small, but there. Harry had found various pieces at the local arts market and spoke to the employees to figure out how to properly get it done, safely, for such a young girl. They had all assumed he was Charlotte’s father and he hadn’t bothered to correct them, but his cheeks were still flushed when he walked back to the car, and even when he was working with Niall to get the pieces together.
She hadn’t given the backs a second glance, however, more in awe of the earrings themselves.
“Are these for me?” she gasped, eyes shooting up to Harry, wide in disbelief. Charlotte timidly pulled them out of the box, which fell onto her bedspread, and she held them up to the light.
Harry grinned in response, giving her a nod, and not quite expecting her arms to suddenly fly around his neck, clutching him tightly, as if for dear life. A piercing yelp echoed in his eardrums as she squealed, and although he was wincing his dimples didn’t waver.
“I love them, Harry!”
She didn’t notice that was the first time she had called him by his first name, forgoing the formal Mr. Styles, and he suspected it wouldn’t be something she would dwell on – but it still made his heart swell and his grin spread wider. It felt like she had finally broke through the perception of him as some intimidating higher-up. Harry felt a little bit choked up, if he was being completely honest, but managed to clear his throat enough to speak clearly.
“Just thought that, yeh know, Molly’ll never have a pair like tha’, yeah?”
Charlotte nodded rapidly against Harry’s shoulder, before she leaned back and sat down. She held out the earrings to Harry and without a word, he began to gently put them into her piercings.
“They’re super dangly. More than the cherries!” she giggled, sneaking peeks of herself around Harry’s shoulder in her dresser mirror. When Harry finished, Charlotte shot up and pranced over to the mirror, looking herself over and brushing her hair back to see the earrings more clearly.
Elise walked into the room as well, led by Y/N, with a couple of storybooks tucked underneath their arms. Y/N had switched into comfier clothing after returning home from work, and seemed much more relaxed during dinner.
As they were all watching Disney Channel, and Charlotte had run into her room, Y/N had grown a bit hesitant to go and deal with her antics right away, too tired to properly know how to talk her daughter through it. She had heard snippets of what had happened and understood the general concept of Molly being too cool for words, but Y/N had never really had that issue in school and wasn’t sure how to tackle it appropriately. When Harry had offered to go speak with Charlie, Y/N half-expected him to come out after 30 seconds with no progress made.
What she didn’t expect, though, was to see her eldest daughter completely calmed down, even laughing. It was definitely a surprise, completely different from how moody Charlie would get with Y/N when the mom would try and talk to her. Y/N usually let Charlotte calm down some naturally, before trying to talk it through, but that tended to only work half the time.
“What’s going on?” Y/N asked, as Elise let go of her hand. The youngest daughter ran up to Charlotte’s bed and jumped onto it behind Harry, hugging his back and pressing her face against his shoulder.
“G’night,” Elise said softly, before letting go and just as quickly as before, jumped into her own bed to sort through the stuffed animals. Both Y/N and Harry seemed a bit stunned by Elise, and Harry looked at Y/N a bit warily, unsure. Elise had only just been getting used to Harry being in the house, and sometimes would leave the room if he entered. They had made slight progress during the last few days, especially with the morning hug, but Harry had half-expected it to be a one-time thing.
“They definitely like you,” Y/N managed to get out, surprise wading in her eyes but she smiled at him nonetheless. It was a bit odd, having another person be the target of her children’s affections, but with Charlotte preening at her own reflection, brand new earrings (that looked expensive, Y/N was going to have to ask Harry about that) on, and Elise finally cracking out of her shell, even in small ways...Y/N wasn’t mad, at all. Wasn’t even properly jealous, despite the fact it had taken her longer to coax the kids out of their protective boundaries. It had taken months for them to call the house ‘home’, and after a simple 2 weeks they were already accepting Harry into the family.
Harry got off the bed, moving to stand closer to the door so that Y/N could say good-night to her kids. With a brief smile and nod at her, he left and went towards the the boys’ room, knocking gently on the door. A massive grin took over his face, which he tried unsuccessfully to bite away, as he finished up his nanny duties for the day - this was the first time all of the children had seemed okay with him being there. It felt like validation, in a strange sense.
It was when all three boys were tucked in their beds, Miles’ Tuesday shorts neatly stacked on his dresser, and Trevor’s nightlight plugged firmly into the wall, that Y/N met up with Harry again.
She leaned against the wall, rubbing gently at her eyes as he walked over to her, closing the boys’ door quietly.
“You’re doing really great,” she mumbled, sleepily grinning at him. “I honestly think you’ve got this all figured out.”
Harry tilted his head side-to-side, shrugging, a soft pink creeping up on his cheeks. He was never sure what to say to Y/N, still a bit intimidated. She was an amazing mother who managed to balance taking care of 5 children and a full-time job that often overworked her. From the short, casual conversations they had, as well, she seemed a bit funny (more of the wry humor type, which Harry wasn’t accustomed to) but also a bit wary of Harry, still.
They were walking through the halls, into the main foyer, and across the living room, turning off lights as they went. The house was cloaked in darkness briefly, before Y/N turned on the hallway light that led to their rooms. The crickets were chirping outside, so the home was not completely silent, but the quaint peace of nighttime bathed the two adults as they walked.
“Dunno ‘bout that, but I’m learning as I go,” he said, before clearing his throat. “How was work?”
They were standing in front of their respective rooms, which were at the other end of the house from the kids’ area. Y/N folded her arms in front of her and leaned gently against her door, head resting on the frame’s edge.
“It was good. Nothing too dramatic, Niall’s good,” her head rose and she blinked, remembering something. “Actually, he asked me to remind you of the suits you’ve got at his place? Said he didn’t know what else you owned, worried you were starting another nudist colony...” Y/N narrowed her eyes at Harry playfully, licking her lips as she waited for his defense.
“Uni was a good time,” was all he offered as an explanation, his dimples poking through as he shrugged. “Didn’t wanna make you regret hiring me, but I’ve got some clothes I usually wear ‘round town. Just suits, ‘n stuff. Friend o’ mine is working to be a designer, gives me free shit sometimes.”
“Language,” she murmured, more so out of habit than genuinely caring. Y/N nodded again, shrugging and moving to face her door.
“Well, I’d be excited to see them. Might get Miles excited too, think he’s getting properly into fashion.”
Harry watched her open the door and move to step inside, before turning around to face him one more time.
“Good night, Harry Styles. Let me know if you need anything.” was her typical line at this moment, and Harry responded with his usual, “Will do. Good night, Y/N Y/L/N.” before they parted ways. A routine of sorts that had become ingrained with the rest
Harry yanked his sweater off, tossing it into the laundry basket and promptly falling into his bed. His legs dangled easily off the sides, considering it was such a small bed, and Harry wondered if he could ask Ni to move the massive mattress in his bathtub into his new room.
The day’s events washed over his joints, as he rested. The fear of not doing well at his job was still prevalent in his mind, lingering around each corner and especially heightening if the kids did anything that would worry him (such as playing, walking, running, skipping, breathing, moving, eating, etc).
It had lessened substantially, however, after talking to Mitch earlier that day - and being able to help out Charlotte gave him some sense of accomplishment. Taking care of children couldn’t be perfectly done like magic, as Mitch had reasoned, and Harry was beginning to suspect that the very act of getting up in the morning - of trying, of doing, of making mistakes and figuring out how to make it better - was the real magic. And he could do it in his own way, granted that none of it would drastically piss off Y/N (and he was beginning to realize that she did trust him, and he wouldn’t need to ask her opinion on every little thing anymore).
Harry’s eyes closed without him needing to physically think about it, exhaustion taking over his lids. He shifted into a more curled-up position on the bed, carelessly tossing a blanket over his legs and calling it good enough. Muffled by the walls, he could hear slow jazz music coming from Y/N’s room as she finished up for the night, the clattering of her bathroom supplies against the sink like an odd type of lullaby to his new routines.
His last thought, before diving into the hazy dreamland of warped memories and subconscious worries, was how he might’ve finally figured out, exactly what the fuck he was doing.