Summary: Alex Rider is not the only child in dire need of therapy. Meeting a boy named Harry, he gets a chance to peek in on the wizarding world.
Disclaimer: Alex Rider belongs to Anthony Horowitz, Harry Potter to J. K. Rowling. Neither of whom is me. I get no money for this.
Warnings: merged timelines, slight DH AU, alive!Remus, angry!Harry, agent!Alex, underage drinking
A/N: I found this on my hard-drive. It's a bit aged, but still funny – I think. Hopefully, you'll laugh at least once. Cheers.
xToo Many Coincidences
xChapter One: Cubs Meeting
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and there were quite a few activities Alex would have engaged in rather than waiting for his weekly government-financed hour of psychotherapy. Still, as a seventeen-year-old with three years of practice in one of the most demanding jobs in existence, he knew to be glad that he had a chance to be there at all – there being currently the end of a corridor in a wing of a clinic, between white-washed walls intermittently decorated with posters promoting all kinds of drugs to fry people's brains, sitting on one of those sharp-edged, not-really-upholstered chairs.
The clock on the wall showed two-fifty, and according to Alex' wristwatch was about three minutes ahead, which meant he had almost quarter of an hour before the start of his session with Dr Anne Willowcrook, the (probably) only psychotherapist paid by the military that specialised in therapy for children and teenagers. He swept the hallway from left to right, found he was still blissfully alone, and returned to his book.
Then a door cracked open.
Alex, suddenly alert, lifted the book in his hand so that it would cover most of his face and warily looked over its top. The voice was unfamiliar, but they knew his designation, which meant nothing good: either MI6 had sent someone from the SAS after him and there was trouble, or the other side (represented by devil-knew-who today) had found him and there was big trouble.
He looked up just in time to see a boy roughly his own age kick the up-to-now half-open door to Dr Willowcrook's office so hard that it hit the wall, and stride out. He looked decidedly murderous, but that was about the last thing that worried Alex. For one, those with homicidal intentions usually bothered to mask them, for the other, this slip of a boy was almost a head smaller than Alex, and thin as rake.
"Cub, wait!" called a middle-aged man from the threshold of the office and ran out in pursuit of the furious teenager. He caught up right in front of the cluster of chairs where Alex was cowering behind his literary shield, and caught the boy's elbow.
He must have had greater physical strength than Alex would have expected of someone as worn-out as he appeared, for the action fully arrested the boy's progress.
"Harry…" the man pleaded.
The boy ('Harry,' apparently, also known as 'Cub') spun, without even attempting to free his arm. He came face to chest with the man, craned his neck looking up, and compounded his hateful expression by adding a twist of lips to it.
"Yes, Mr Big Bad Wolf?" the boy snarled sarcastically, and Alex felt his jaw drop. 'Cub' he could accept as a term of endearment, but there was such a thing as 'too improbable.' Of which this was a textbook example.
"Harry," the man said in a soft tone that was meant to placate, "will you come back, please? I know that you don't want to do this, but I cannot help you myself and you do need help-"
"Never needed it before," the boy snapped. "Why do you suddenly care?" He was lashing out, and if Alex was reading the signs correctly (flushed cheeks, accelerated breathing, shaking hands), he was on the verge of a panic attack. However, intruding upon the contretemps by instructing the man to let go would not have been a good idea.
"Mr Lupin, would you please let me speak with Harry alone?" Dr Willowcrook, standing in the doorway of her office, came to the rescue. She glanced at Alex, nodded in greeting, and waited for the two people with no concept of keeping their privacy private to return to her.
'Harry' tore his arm out of the now slack grip, stepped past 'Mr Lupin' and walked back to the doctor. Alex noticed that despite his rather casual clothes (black jeans and off-white short-sleeved shirt) the teenager carried himself like… like a fighter. Like Alex himself might have, alert and ready to spring, anxious in unknown surroundings, among unknown people.
As a matter of fact, Alex felt like he was looking into a skewed mirror: were it not for the messy halo of dark hair, glasses, and a notable lack of muscle-mass (the boy was positively scrawny), he might have been watching himself a year ago, after he and MI6 had reached what he called in his head 'the compromise' (he had resigned himself to working for them and they started treating him like a real agent), during his first psychotherapy session. He might have been less vocal about it, but the displeasure and general annoyance with the necessity he was loath to admit had been on par with what 'Harry' was displaying.
That was… worrisome.
It became more than worrisome a moment later when 'Mr Lupin' took a seat one chair down to Alex's left, slumped, and barely waited for the office door to close before he initiated a casual conversation.
"Hello," he said.
Alex was in the middle of a chapter, and while little exciting was happening to the protagonists, he would have much preferred finding out how they would fare to socialising with this stranger. Still, his job had driven him to paranoia, and he seized the chance to assess a potential threat.
"Hi," he said with his best 'I'm a harmless teenager' grin.
The man sniffed the air and his eyes seemed to cross for a moment before he stuttered: "A-are y-you a client of Dr Willowcrook?"
Alex nodded. "Yeah," he said with a hint of American accent that never failed to make him appear the epitome of a consumer of modern pop-culture… ergo brainless. "She's pretty nice, so don't worry 'bout your son." If the boy was this man's son, Alex would have eaten his sneakers, but the best way to extract correct information form unsuspecting respondents was making incorrect assumptions.
It worked like a charm.
"Err… Harry's not my son." The man squared his shoulders, uncomfortable. "I love the Cub, but we've never really been that close… and I'm afraid he's going to hate me for making him come here."
Alex scrunched up his nose. It hurt, but the effect was guaranteed. "Yeah, no one likes going to the shrink. Makes you feel like you're mental. I threatened to run away from home the first time they made go." Okay, so that was total bullshit, but the mild-looking, graying, forty-ish man didn't pick up on it, so that was what mattered.
"I hope Harry will reconsider. He is a strong kid, but…"
"Tough times?" Alex asked carelessly.
"Indescribably," Mr Lupin sighed. "I know he's not alright, but he won't talk to me – I don't know what else to do."
Well, he certainly sounded like he was legit. Alex was half-inclined to believe that this pair of strange people was really who they appeared to be: a guardian and a charge in search of some professional help. Better safe than sorry (or dead), though.
Alex packed the book into his backpack and made himself as comfortable as the un-padded chair allowed. In a low voice, a mixture of curiosity and confidentiality, he asked: "He do drugs?"
The horror on Lupin's face was all the answer Alex needed. No drugs. No weapons. Probably not even excessive violence or mortal danger. Maybe their dog had died. They were normal people.
Well, whatever passed for normal in this messed-up world.
Dr Willowcrook's door opened again and 'Harry' walked out. He still held himself straight, but there was a palpable air of defeat around him, mixed with some thoughtfulness.
"Fine, Remus," he said, spotting Lupin and setting out toward him. "You win once again. Not that it should surprise me – was I ever allowed to make any decision on my own?"
Lupin rose to his feet, glanced at Alex and muttered something that could have been 'thank for the chat and bye.' Then he pulled the boy to his chest in a bear-hug.
'Harry' allowed it, but made it more than obvious that the gesture was unwelcome.
Alex watched them go, for a moment deeming the boy ungrateful that he had anyone in his life who wanted to hug him. Then he imagined how he would react if Wolf ever tried anything like that (hard sci-fi, but for the sake of an argument…) and shuddered.
"Alex?" Dr Willowcrook called out.
He sighed and went to have his head shrunk.
A week later Alex was back and, lo and behold, so were the two presumed civilians – except this time they were three.
Mr Remus John Lupin, a thirty-nine year old British citizen with a teaching degree, currently unemployed (according to what Alex had managed to scrounge from files accessible to him), recent widower and a father to Theodore Lupin was slumped in one of the torture chairs, his eyes closed and dark circles stark underneath them. To his chest he was holding a sleeping baby (presumably Theodore).
According to frequency of the rising of his chest, he was awake.
Still, Alex could pretend that he thought the man was asleep, and thence was absolved of the social niceties like greeting-
"Hello," Lupin said softly, notably without opening his eyes. He could have heard footsteps, certainly, but there was something niggling about a man that would greet anyone.
"Hi," Alex replied as stupidly as he was able to, and pulled out his book.
Lupin didn't get the hint. Smiling so wide that his crows' feet practically piled together, he turned, finally taking a look at Alex. "I apologise, but I forgot to introduce myself last time we met. I am Remus Lupin, and this little bundle of joy-" he nodded to the baby, "-is my son Ted. It's a pleasure to meet you again."
"'m Alex," Alex replied and made a valiant attempt to return to his book. He should have been studying the file on his next mission instead, but policy said no classified information could be carried out of the Bank, except in 'special' circumstances with 'special' authorization from the 'special' people. Hence: fiction.
"Are you from the United States?" the irrepressible man spoke again. The baby in his grip wiggled a bit, and he hurriedly adjusted his bonnet.
Alex glanced up, and decided that a civilian driven into conversation by boredom was not worth the bother of creating a persona on the spot (at least not past the pretending he had a two-digit IQ).
"Nah. Just went on a trip there," he said eventually, glancing at the clock. About five minutes were left – the Doctor rarely stretched a session past the allotted time. Alex resolved to become more punctual, because while he did have a lot of practice at acting like a teenager, he didn't enjoy it a bit.
"Did you like it?" Lupin inquired.
"Nah. 's a stupid country full of crazy an' stupid people."
Lupin seemed taken aback, then somewhat judgmental, and in the end his attention was diverted to the baby, who started squirming. The man set his son on the next chair and turned to him, blocking him from Alex' sight with the grey expanse of jacket-covered back.
Alex grabbed the opportunity to read the next paragraph. He managed a couple of sentences, before his pager beeped and his day – dammit, his week! – went to hell in hand-basket.
Theodore Lupin, roused by the shrill sound from his semi-somnolent state started screaming to high heavens, Remus Lupin rushed to quiet him, Harry What's-his-name kicked Willowcrook's door open, reaching to his back for a weapon with practiced motion, and Alex Rider calmly stood from the chair, stuffed his book into his backpack, and said: "Sorry. Emergency. Tell the Doc I'll call her for the next date."
"Bye, Alex!" Lupin called automatically, while leaping from his seat the prevent 'Harry the Cub' from going trigger-happy, and leaving his child to howl his lungs out.
Walking out of the Bedlam, Alex allowed himself a little sigh and then steeled himself for whatever near-apocalypse was to come in the next few hours. MI6 only ever paged him anymore when some urgent world-saving was desperately needed.
Alex was back two weeks later – and five minutes too early, since scaling the London Eye in motion put him into an adrenaline high that made him forget about more than just his resolution.
He paused on top of the stairs and then decided that to hell with Lupin and his inquisitiveness, he was going to sit down before his legs gave up on him.
Two steps later he literally ran into – or, rather, was run into – by someone who, thank devil for small mercies, wasn't Lupin. The person seemed more shocked, but also far steadier on their feet (maybe Alex should have listened to the doctors and taken it easy, but he had difficulties remembering what 'easy' meant).
The assailant – Harry the Cub – shot out a hand and gripped Alex' shoulder to steady him. Then he rapidly let go, muttered: "Sorry!" and spun on his heel to stalk down the hallway. Alex watched him stride off while he moved to the nearest chair, watched him reach the far wall, swivel and come back at the same furious pace, clutching his fists, scowling at the floor, with hair that seemed to stand on ends as if the air was full of static.
Now Alex was beginning to recall the last time. This boy's reaction to a child's scream was to barge in and reach for a weapon automatically… Alex observed him as he passed by again, but he could see no bulge that would signify a gun. Maybe last time Willowcrook had noticed and pointed out regulations? Not that Alex would have come completely weaponless, regulations or none, but even he tended to leave his gun home. He always kept at least a packet of Smithers' chewing gum on him, and usually a knife, too (hardened plastic to avoid detectors – not the most durable, but in a pinch it did nicely).
"I'm sorry for running into you," Harry spoke suddenly, coming to a halt. Presumably he had worked through some of his anger, although Alex could still see why the kid would have needed psychotherapy.
"No harm," Alex replied.
"If you say so," Harry returned and seemed to lose further interest.
Alex appreciated that, as opposed to his guardian, the boy wasn't going to force him into mindless chatter. He wasn't given a long time to rejoice, however, as Harry was momentarily joined by Lupin and Willowcrook, who exited the office.
Grave expressions were exchanged in all directions. For once Alex really didn't want to know.
"Mr Lupin and I have come to a conclusion, Harry," the Doctor said, trying to sound sympathetic, but coming across as rather frustrated.
The twist of lips that was Harry's reaction showed clearly what he thought of her attempt.
"Cub," Lupin interjected, apparently the only one who didn't pick up on the brewing storm, "we're just trying to help you-"
"Sure," Harry sneered. "Now everybody's trying to help. And everybody's and expert on how to best help me. Shove it, Remus! I got through everything up to now on my own, and I'll get through everything from now on the same way. If I wanted to talk, I'd have rung up Hermione."
"Harry," Willowcrook cut in before the guardian and charge came to blows, "I believe we have ascertained that you feel your experiences isolate you from other people, and I can tell that it is a justified feeling on your part. However, you deliberately further isolate yourself, and in the long run that will only hurt you."
Willowcrook's mouth tightened – another clear sign of frustration – and she patted Lupin's upper arm.
Harry took a preemptive step back, just in case she attempted to touch him, too. Alex glanced at his watch. A minute past three. Not that he was going to stand up and draw attention to himself. He was just fine with sitting there and waiting until the two frustrating probably-civilians (accounting for Harry's demeanor and reaction, plus the fact that going on a first name that might or might not have been a diminutive, and a relation to Lupin, Alex had not managed to discover the identity of the boy) went away.
Alex, unwillingly, glanced up.
Willowcrook was giving him what appeared to be a pleading look, all doe eyes and scrunched-up forehead.
"Would you be willing to join a session with another client?"
Harry picked up on her intention instantly. He went white and re-fisted his hands – all in all he looked ready to kill, or at least hurt, someone. He couldn't have been more obvious if he had yelled 'I don't want to do this!' and pulled the mysterious weapon on his supremely annoying guardian.
Alex was tempted to say no out of pity for the boy, but if Harry was anything like himself… which he probably wasn't, but if he was… "Okay, sure." Alex wouldn't have been Alex if he let sleeping dogs lie and bizarre coincidences like the meeting of two 'Cubs' pass uninvestigated. Call it occupational disease.
"Mr Lupin," Willowcrook addressed the only adult man (for all that he was arguably the least intelligent one) present, "I would like for Harry to have a joint session with another of my clients as an outsider witness. I believe their interaction would be beneficial to both of them, but I would first like your opinion."
Interestingly, Harry somehow managed to completely close off. Suddenly there was no sign of his anger, not even resignation, just a stony face, still somewhat discoloured with his previous pallor, but completely blank. The boy pushed his glasses higher on his nose and leaned away from the adults, body language betraying his mask of indifference. It was a good try, but Alex was too skilled at reading people.
Lupin, startled, replied: "If you believe it would help, then certain-"
"I am eighteen," Harry pointed out, surprising Alex, who would have guessed him a year or two younger, "and until you've diagnosed me with something that makes me unable to decide for myself, I will be a part of this conversation."
The Doctor smiled. "Harry, would you agree to a joint session with another of my clients?"
Seeing as how he truly was given no choice – being legally adult apparently didn't make Harry the Cub independent – the boy shrugged, continuing his façade of equanimity. "Whatever."
Alex's mind, trained to analyse people, classified him as a ticking bomb of PTSD. And he had just agreed to a joint session. Fun. About as much fun as randomly picking which wire leading to the detonator to cut while shackled to a chest with a brick of P4 inside – and yes, he had done that.
Alex suspected that he would need therapy just to get over his therapy sessions.