Welcome to the Playpen!
These, dear readers, are the various Harry Potter bunnies that show up on my doorstep and refuse to be turned away, but also refuse to grow up to their full potential, no matter how I feed them. So, by popular vote I'm putting them on show, in hopes that one of you out there will see their big, pleading eyes and find it in your hearts to take them in.
Each bunny may be taken in whole or in parts, directly quoted or not, so long as due credit is given. I also hope that you'll send me the links to these stories of yours, so that I can rec them in the chapter, whether they're this story exactly, or only inspired by it.
These stories may be short or long, crossover or pure, slash, gen, or even possibly het (though that last will likely be rare). This first one is going to be fairly unusual for its species, since I wanted to kick the Playpen off with a bang.
Remember, and be warned, the only purpose of these bunnies is to inspire…
We Who Watch
Warnings: Profanity; violence; intimations of child abuse; Timeline, What Timeline?
Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor Highlander, nor anything pertaining to either.
The Dursleys steamed. Impotently, for the most part, but nevertheless, they steamed.
They'd have to take the boy into London- not that they'd had a choice, given that the trip was for his benefit. This, of course, added injury to insult, since they'd then actually had to spend money on the boy. Why couldn't that bloody teacher have minded her own damn business? The brat was six! Why in the world would he need glasses?
So here they were in London, seeing one of the few optometrists their insurance company approved of. The boy's glasses had proven to be horrendously expensive (to their eyes), and the way he stared wide-eyed at the city around them afterwards was positively sickening.
As a result, the Dursleys' behavior towards their nephew was poor indeed. Out in public as they were, they couldn't yell and scream their insults as they were wont to do at home, but they could and did do everything possible to show the boy how much of an unwanted burden he was. Their young son Dudley was greatly encouraged by this, and demanded presents for putting up with his stupid cousin's shopping trip.
Being the wonderful, loving caregivers they were, it took only a few fake tears before the Dursleys agreed, and they began to search for a suitable store.
Aunt Petunia clutched Dudley's hand tightly as they made their way down the sidewalk, but little Harry was left to trail along in the rather large wake left by Uncle Vernon. Every flash of color or motion caught the boy's eager eyes, and his head would twist and turn to watch what he had never been able to see clearly before.
Thus, it was no surprise when he slowed to look more closely at a colorful advert for a magic show; among other things, the Dursleys had made the word 'magic' anathema within their household, and Harry was astonished to find the forbidden displayed for all to see. His eyes trailed over the floating hoops, the bright flashes of light, the magician's tailed coat and tall top hat, and a deep yearning rose within him…
A couple of minutes later Dudley looked behind them, and then tugged on his mother's sleeve. "Mummy?" he asked. "Where's Harry?"
It wouldn't be true night for another hour yet, but the shadows were lengthening, and the sky slowly darkened as a frightened Harry wandered London's streets. There weren't many others out and about around him; he'd left the nicer parts of the city behind some time ago. Across the road, pubs and shops with pictures of women who had lost their clothes in the windows were brightly lit, but Harry remembered Uncle Vernon telling Dudley not to go near places like that. "Not without adult supervision, anyway!" the man had chuckled, greatly amused by his joke, though neither Dudley nor Harry knew what 'supervision' meant.
The door to one of the pubs opened suddenly, spilling out light and noise and people into the dusk, and startled, Harry darted into a nearby alley. He had screwed up his courage and tried to ask a few people for help, earlier on, but most had ignored him, while a couple of men gave him broad, friendly smiles that he found made him very uneasy. If he'd seen a bobby the boy would have gone straight for him, but any and all seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Shivering, Harry took cover behind a group of dustbins, curling his knees to his chest and trying very hard not to cry. He was mostly successful, only having to wipe away a couple of tears with his sleeve, and for a moment the sense of accomplishment almost drowned out his hunger and thirst, and the way he was starting to shiver.
He must have lost track of time, because the next thing he knew the last shreds of light were filling the alley, and two sets of footsteps were coming closer. Terrified, Harry pushed himself further back into the dustbins and hoped he wouldn't be seen.
Two men walked into sight a moment later, both wearing long overcoats and looking very grim. "This will do," one said, looking around the alley. The boy shrank even more into the shadows.
The other one simply nodded, and to Harry's astonishment pulled a long, heavy sword from his coat. Without saying a word, he lunged, but the first man had already pulled out a slimmer blade of his own and diverted it off to the side.
Harry saw little of the ensuing fight. As soon as a thrust succeeded in drawing blood he curled into a whimpering ball, his young mind first mesmerized and then appalled by the steady flow of crimson. That didn't close out the noises, though; the harsh clanging of blade on blade, the grunts of exertion and hisses of pain. And after what felt like an hour, a whispered phrase, "There can be only one," and a loud thud.
There was silence for a moment then, and Harry dared to lift his head. It was something he would always regret, for in that moment, the world came crashing down as bolts of an unearthly blue lightning wreaked havoc through the alley. Dustbins- not the ones the boy hid behind, or his life's tale would have been very short indeed- were hurled like children's toys, and bricks in the walls shattered as they were heated past their limits.
Harry saw none of this. One of the bolts had come too close, and blue lightning danced over his huddled form, tearing screams of agony from his throat as it burned his skin.
A second bolt knocked him unconscious. And with the winner of the Challenge distracted by the Quickening he was absorbing and unaware there was another person in the alley at all, none were there to see the lightning spark and sputter as it soaked into the boy's wounds.
"Clean-up on Aisle Seven," Erik Danvers muttered into his cell phone as he frowned at the two pieces of the dead Immortal.
"A confirmed kill, then?"
"Affirmative. Rosenberg won and headed off, probably back to the hotel room. I'll chase after him in a moment. Still no idea who the second Immortal was?"
"None. No Watcher currently attached to him, and no one's found anything in the Archives to suggest we've ever seen him before."
"Poor bastard," the field Watcher commented, looking down at the oddly serene expression on the decapitated head. "Dead without anyone ever knowing your name. Is the clean-up crew on the way? I really need to get after my assignment."
"It's halfway to your position, ETA ten minutes. Think you can wait that long?"
Shit. "If I have to. But you'd better get another Watcher on Rosenberg before we lose him. He doesn't like to stick around long after a Challenge."
"Got it," the controller replied, but Erik had stopped listening. A sound where there shouldn't have been one had him searching the alley and listening hard.
There, again- a thin whimper of pain. The Watcher followed it around a tumbled group of dustbins, to find a thin form in shapeless clothes huddled behind one that was, miraculously, still upright. "Aw, hell…" he breathed. "That clean-up crew happen to have a medic with them?"
"Don't know, I'll check. Why?"
"There's a kid in the alley. Seven, maybe eight, unconscious. Looks like he caught some of the Quickening, lots of burns." He knelt next to the still and mostly silent figure,
"Bloody hell," the controller echoed. "That means he saw the Challenge… No good sending him to the local hospital, then."
Erik noted to himself that the controller for London had a gift for understatement. The Tribune wouldn't be at all happy if they let the kid go, only to have him wake up spouting off about people with swords who had lightning inside them. And he carefully didn't think about the last option. Permanent silencing might be a necessary evil on occasion, but there was no way he would be able to stand by while they killed a kid.
"We're in luck, there's a medic with the team. There's a small medical center attached to our headquarters, we'll bring him back here for treatment. Stay with him until then."
Erik acknowledged his orders and switched off his phone, then settled gingerly onto the ground next to the whimpering boy. "Don't worry, kid, we'll take care of you…"
"Why are you hiding?"
The question, shyly asked from behind him where by all rights no one should have been, brought Methos' head around fast enough that he heard a series of pops from his abused neck. There was a young boy sitting at the table behind him, whose dark, messy hair and green eyes contrasted sharply with the white of the bandages wrapped liberally around his forehead and what could be seen of the rest of him. His arms were folded on the desk, and his chin was propped delicately on them as he stared curiously at the Immortal.
"What was that?" Methos asked, more sharply than he'd intended in his surprise. He'd heard rumors that a boy had been seen wandering around the London headquarters, but this was the first chance he'd had to confirm them for himself.
The kid flinched a little at his tone, but didn't move, seemingly content to watch him with those unusual eyes from behind horrible hard-rimmed glasses. "You're hiding. I… I was wondering why, sir."
Methos frowned at him. "I don't know what you mean. This is hardly hiding," he said, waving a hand around them. The London Archives might not be as modern and open as the main archives in Paris, but there was still no way to call his lurking about the stacks 'hiding'. Reminded by the weight in his hand, he turned and deposited the Chronicle back in its place on the only mildly dusty shelf. "Are you supposed to be in here?"
He looked back just in time to see the boy blush. "I didn't like it in the hospital," he admitted quietly. "It was too white, and I'm tired of lying down all the time."
A chuckle deep in his throat took the Immortal by surprise, and he moved over to lean against the chair opposite the kid. "Can't say as I blame you. I've never cared for it much either." Though that was mostly because of the endless potential for exposure a hospital environment provided.
The thought of exposure sparked a sudden, dark suspicion deep within him, but he carefully schooled his expression so that it wouldn't show. "My name's Adam," he said. "Who might you be?"
"Harry," the boy answered, sitting up. "And I'm six." Almost immediately one of his hands went to the loose end of a bandage and began to fiddle with it.
"Stop that," Methos chided. "Those bandages need to stay on or you'll never heal."
Harry blushed again and pulled his hand away, setting it docilely in his lap. "It itches," he complained.
Methos suppressed a smile. "That's good. When wounds itch that means they're healing." He ran his eyes over the boy again, this time paying more attention and frowning when he realized just how much of the child was covered by the bandages. "How did you get hurt?"
"The lightning burned me."
The Immortal's mouth went dry. "Lightning?"
Harry nodded. "Two people were fighting, and then blue lightning came out of one. Some of it hit me." The pit dropped out of Methos' stomach as the boy studied him closely. "It hurt a lot, and those men were really scary… but you have the lightning and you're not scary at all. Is that why you're hiding?"
Several curses in various languages ran through the Immortal's mind, some of which were old enough he could have sworn he'd forgotten them. His hands on the back of the chair were clenched tight, and Methos forced them to listen as he tried to think of some course of action that wouldn't end up with him outed to the Watchers and short one very old head. Running was always an option, even if it was one he had to take all too often, and he wasn't as prepared with escape routes and cover identities as he'd have liked. Bluffing it out was risky; not many would believe a child about his supposed Immortality, but the first seeds of doubt would be planted nonetheless. He couldn't afford that.
He could kill the boy. It wouldn't be the first time he had killed to protect his secret, not by a very long shot, but… Methos hadn't killed a child in over two thousand years. The blood of the young on his hands were some of his worst memories of riding as a Horseman. He could do it, he didn't doubt that, but what it would do to his psyche afterwards…
"Would it be bad if they knew?" Harry asked hesitantly, his quiet voice breaking into Methos' racing thoughts.
Methos stared at him for a long moment. "Yes," he finally said, for all his millennia of experience not sure whether the answer was a mistake or not.
Harry stared right back at him, frowning and squinting and generally looking as calculating as a boy his age could manage. "I won't tell them," he finally said, slowly, "if you don't tell them I ran away from the hospital."
The Immortal nearly choked on his relief, though an equal amount of doubt kept it in check. The boy might be willing to make a deal, but children his age were notoriously bad at keeping secrets. Still, it was worth a shot. He'd just have to be ready to run at a moment's notice… "I have your oath on that?" he asked, leaning forward, and the boy nodded. "Very well. I won't tell anyone you've left your bed if you don't tell them that I… have the lightning."
Harry shook his proffered hand with a solemn light in his eyes that made Methos feel just a little bit better about not turning tail and leaving the Watchers in his dust. "I swear," the boy added, and gave the Immortal a genuine, bright smile.
Methos returned the smile with one that was only partially forced. "If you don't mind my asking," he said quietly, after a look around at the stacks to make sure they were still alone, "how did you know about the lightning?"
Harry shrugged. "I felt it. Sort of… tingly. Kind of itchy, too."
That was impossible. The boy wasn't an Immortal- there was no way he could have snuck up on Methos if that was the case- and as far as he could tell Harry wasn't a pre-Immortal, either. Not that he was always able to tell, but after five thousand years he'd learned how to be very, very good at sensing others of his kind. "Are-" he started to ask, and then stopped, frowning in consternation. How were you supposed to ask a six-year-old boy whether he was adopted? "Do you live with your parents?"
His suspicions deepened as Harry shook his head. "They died when I was really little. I don't know a lot about them. Aunt Petunia doesn't like to talk about it."
"I see…" Still frowning, Methos stretched out with his senses as far as he could towards Harry, and for a brief moment thought he caught a wisp of a Quickening around the boy, but the ghost was gone before he could be sure he wasn't imagining it. A true mystery to ponder, but… "If you don't want to be caught out here, you'd best be getting back to the hospital," he cautioned, glancing at his wristwatch. "We'll talk again some other time."
Harry nodded quickly, giving him another bright smile, and rose from his chair. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Adam. You're a lot nicer than Uncle Vernon."
Before Methos could ask what he meant by that the boy had vanished down the aisle between the stacks, gone as quickly as he'd appeared. Shaking his head in bemusement, the Immortal promised himself that he'd find the kid again before his week in London was up. Not only did he need to reassure himself that his secret was safe, but there was no way his curiosity would let him not try to figure out the strange child.
As it turned out, though, Methos didn't see Harry again. A couple of days later, a new rumor circulated among the researchers that the boy being kept in Headquarters had been sent home to his family, and 'Adam Pierson' was ordered out of the country to follow a lead on the oldest Immortal, who might have been seen in Cordova.
Ten years later.
His house was spacious. His car was new. His lawn, though patched with brown in the summer heat, looked as though someone had taken a scalpel to each blade of grass and trimmed it to regulation height. There were even nicely-blooming begonias planted along his walkway, organized into bright blocks of color, and every other house in the neighborhood could boast of the same pleasant, family-oriented state.
God, but Methos hated the place. In fact, he rather thought he might burn his house down when he finally got to ditch this life.
That would only be in four or five years, though, until the Watcher's Council was a little less suspicious of the Watcher in their midst who had been killed in the line of duty, and to everyone's shock, risen again as an Immortal. A surprise even to him, so far as they knew, and Methos had every intention of keeping it that way. That meant doing everything the way a brand-new Immortal would, albeit one with Watcher training, even when doing so was often not the smartest thing for an Immortal to do.
Thus, he'd returned to a country that he'd spent time in during his 'mortal' life, leaving an admittedly slim possibility of being recognized, and whose strict laws made it difficult to carry weapons. There was a church nearby to shelter from Challenges in, but only one. And the name he'd chosen for his new identity was hardly different from his 'original' one, as Immortals in their second life, and even into their third, were often far too attached to their mortal selves. Older Immortals knew better, for the most part; the Macleod brothers he dismissed as data scatter. He had no idea how they'd gotten away with keeping their names down the centuries without getting themselves killed.
And so now, he fumbled for his keys by the front door as Mr. Wilson, two houses down, waved to young 'Adam Pierce', who had only just a few days ago moved into the long-vacant 5 Magnolia Road. Methos waved backed, reluctantly, and felt a wave of relief as he finally found the right key and made it inside the house.
As horrible as he found the outside to be, he took great pleasure in decorating the inside however he wanted to. Several boxes of musty old books had accompanied him from his previous life, and he'd wasted no time in piling them into the several bookshelves the Watcher's Council had footed the bill for installing- amazingly, they'd decided to give their former researched a pension, lasting only until they judged he'd gotten back on his feet. Tasteful prints and exotic artifacts from his travels as Adam Pierson were scattered wherever he'd had a mind to put them, and the rack of 'decorative' swords in the entryway had suspiciously sharp edges.
His neighbors had look askance at his decorations, when they'd piled in for a house-warming party he'd not had the chance to say 'no' to, up until he explained that he was an anthropology major taking a year's sabbatical from university. Then they all but fell over themselves voicing their approval of a young man following a higher education, each neighbor trying to approve more loudly than every other one. It was a great relief when Methos was at last able to shuffle them out the door, regretting that he couldn't expedite their exits much more physically.
Though admittedly, one or two had been less obnoxious than the rest. Little Mrs. Figg hadn't been too bad, even if the chocolate biscuits she brought over were stale and she was more than a bit dotty.
There was a brief message on the machine from Joe, asking how he'd settled in, and Methos powered up his computer and dashed down a quick email to the effect that a root canal was more pleasant than his new place. He was exaggerating, and Joe would know that, but there were a thousand places he'd rather be. With the email sent, he set about reviewing the anthropology material he would be expected to be up to speed in as someone who had already been through several years of classes.
The Immortals amused himself by correcting all the errors in the textbooks that he could find. The notes he jotted in the margins were, of course, not in English; he wasn't an idiot, even if he was pretending to be one. He used the same polyglot of ancient languages that he preferred to use in his journals. The textbooks couldn't entertain him forever, though, and towards the late afternoon Methos was driven outside to explore the neighborhood. There was a park not far down the street from his house, and his footsteps led him there first.
There were a few children playing desultorily on the swings and in the sandbox, watched closely by their mothers. After a brief glance Methos turned to be on his way, convinced that there was nothing interesting about the place, but then he paused as he heard the sound of pounding feet.
The park was ringed by neck-high bushes, and out of the ones on the other side of the park burst a teenage boy, running as though his life depended on it. Which it quite possibly did, the Immortal conceded as he watched five more boys, each much larger than the first, stampede through and nearly flatten the bushes a couple of seconds later.
The kid was fast, but not fast enough, and his pursuers caught up with him halfway through the park. One caught him in a rugby tackle about the knees, and he crashed to the turf with a painful-sounding thud. The others gathered around the fallen boy and seemed only be taunting him, until a portly, blonde-haired teen snapped a harsh kick into his ribs.
Methos was the kind of person who preferred to let someone else interfere with life's little troubles, but to his astonishment not one of the mothers near the playground was paying the ensuing beating any attention. They were almost pointedly looking in the other direction, even though the kid's yelps of pain were clearly audible.
The next thing he knew, he was striding towards the pack of teenagers as he damned the Highlander for his tendency to rub off on others. The Immortal silent up until the point he grabbed the nearest by the shoulders and bodily pulled him off the struggling kid. The rest staggered back, surprised by the intrusion of an adult into their activities.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the blonde one blustered, taking the words right out of Methos' mouth.
Methos narrowed his eyes. "That rather depends. On you, mostly, and on how much you manage to piss me off in the next few minutes. Right now I'm leaning towards calling the police on you twerps, but if annoy me enough I'll take care of things myself."
Despite not having reached his full growth, the blonde massed nearly as much as Methos himself did, but he didn't have millennia-worth experience in intimidation. The teenager fell back a step and then caught himself, aware of the eyes of fellows on him. "You wouldn't dare! My father would-"
"Daddy's got connections, does he?" the Immortal interrupted, sparing a glance for the first time at the target of their wrath. The kid was skinny and wore baggy clothes and thick glasses; he looked so much like a victim that Methos wasn't at all surprised he'd been chosen as the boys' punching bag. Then two things struck the Immortal, almost simultaneously. The hopelessness in his eyes, despite being rescued, and their deep green color behind the glasses that struck a chord within him.
Why did those eyes look so familiar?
"So do I," he continued, so quickly that none of the others realized he'd been even momentarily distracted. "And I'm willing to bet they're a lot better than your father's. Care to try me?"
Okay, so for the most part they were really the Council's contacts, not his, but there was no need to quibble over details. The boy was silent, fuming, and after a moment Methos nodded in satisfaction. "Or you could take the last option. Get out of here, now, and if I ever see you pull this kind of crap again I promise that you'll regret it."
The blonde postured for a bit longer and then took off, his pack following obediently along at his heels. Methos leaned down to help the kid up, who visibly hesitated before accepting his hand.
"…Thanks," he said, wariness as well as pain evident in every line of his body. "They'll just do it again tomorrow, though."
"Then why don't you tell your parents?" Damned if he knew how, but Methos could swear he knew this kid from somewhere. The memory was nudging the back of his minds, but whenever he tried to lay hands on it, it scuttled back out of reach.
The kid snorted bitterly. "Kind of hard to tell dead people anything. And considering Dudley's my cousin, there's no point in complaining about him to my aunt and uncle."
That got a wince of sympathy out of him, but Methos had done his good deed for the day and was ready to wash his hands of the business unless it showed up on his doorstep. "I'm Adam Pierce," he introduced himself, putting a bit of distance in his voice. He wasn't going to be anyone's savior.
"Harry Potter," the kid said, and the memory fell into place with a jarring thud.
Well, damn. It was him.
(Sirius is dead, Harry knows the Prophecy. Methos knows about magic, but when the wizarding world went into hiding around 900 A.D. he came to believe they'd died out. Insert the myriad adventures of Harry and Methos, in which Methos tries his best to hide his secrets, but Harry's very good at ferreting things out. Methos is eventually outed to both Harry and the Watcher's Council.)
Joe Dawson looked up with a bemused smile as Methos settled down onto the barstool. The old man had been making himself scarce lately, and the Watcher hadn't had an idea why until he received a telephone call earlier from one of contacts.
"So what's this I hear about you blackmailing the Watcher's Council?" he demanded.
The Immortal gave him a hurt look. "What, no hello? No 'how are you'? And here I thought you liked me."
"Oh, he loves you," a third voice said sarcastically, and Duncan Macleod propped himself again the bar next to him. Methos didn't jump; he'd been aware ever since he stepped inside the bar that the Highlander was visiting Joe. "Blackmail? Is there something I should know about?"
"Only if you're going to pull on a top hat and carry a cane and call yourself Jiminy," Methos answered, hiding his irritation with his own dose of sarcasm. Why did Macleod always insist on acting as his conscience?
Recognizing the start of another argument between the two ersatz friends, Joe intervened. "Adam's given the Tribune an ultimatum. They assign a Watcher of his choice to tail him, or he falls off their radar entirely. He's been playing hooky the last few weeks so they'd believe him."
"That… sounds reasonable," Mac conceded. Ever since the secret of Methos' identity had come out, the Watchers had been almost obsessive over the old man. He knew Methos was getting fed up with it, and he could understand wanting to have some control over just who was privy to all of your secrets.
Besides, if Methos got this sop now, maybe he wouldn't find it necessary to disappear again. As exasperated as he tended to get with the ancient Immortal, Mac much preferred having him in his life.
Joe nodded. "That's not what has the Tribune all wound up. The Watcher the old reprobate," he gestured to Methos, who was sitting there with a smug look on his face as he listened, "has picked out isn't even through the Academy yet. He has two more months before he graduates."
An eyebrow crept up, and the Scot turned a suspicious stare on his friend, who more than ever looked like the cat who ate the canary. "I know that look. He's up to something."
Methos shrugged expansively. "What can I say? He's more than ready. I think I can count on him to be able to keep up with me and… keep me out of trouble."
The suspicion wasn't only coming from Mac now. "I take it you know this Potter kid, then? He's not just a name on a list?" Joe pondered out loud.
"Oh, we've met, once or twice… I recommended him to the Academy. Thought he'd do well there." It was a Cheshire grin now, full of secrets and spice, and Mac automatically met it with a scowl.
He was suddenly very interested in meeting Potter.
A/N: And… that's it, folks. Damn, just shy of 5000 words. I wanted to hit that landmark… Anyway, these were the only scenes from this bunny that suggested themselves in depth, so I wrote them out. No more will be forthcoming unless (or until) an actual plot suggests itself, so I really do hope someone out there fell into the bunny-trap. I've always loved Highlander crossovers starring Methos, and just was really, truly tired of stories where Methos spilled his secrets at the drop of a hat.
31 July 2007