“How do we know the boy won’t go on another rampage?” calls a voice from somewhere to Credence’s right. He doesn’t look, can’t look; merely keeps his head down and eyes trained on the floor.
“He won’t,” Mr. Graves-- the real Mr. Graves-- says firmly.
“But how do we know? He’s done it twice before.”
“He,” emphasizes Mr. Graves, “has done nothing. He was the victim of a parasitic magical force brought on by years of repression and abuse and provoked by a genocidal fanatic.”
A murmur goes round the room. The senate hearing consists of nearly a hundred wizards and witches -- more than Credence ever dreamed of existing. He can’t look at them for too long without feeling light-headed, like his Ma’s old prescriptions against being arrogant enough to stare into the face of God if he made it to heaven.
“He--” starts the man.
Mr. Graves cuts him off. “The same genocidal fanatic, you will note, who kept me captive for nearly a year and tried to kill one of my fellow aurors.”
“It was a very good impersonation of you, Percy,” comes an old, squeaking voice.
“You’re calling me self-important and a fantastic duelist?” Mr. Graves says, a smirk audible in his voice. “You flatter me, Charlie.”
The president speaks before the conversation veers further off topic. “Credence is no child. He is too old for a formal wizarding education.”
“So you would have him held captive, killed-- all for the sin of being too old for Ilvermorny?” he snaps, all seriousness once more. “That is not justice, Madam President. He must be taught to harness his powers.”
“And who will teach him, Graves? Who will take responsibility for an adult with no money, no family, and no magical skill?” she asks.
A hush falls over the room, and Credence squeezes his eyes shut. He’s wondered the same thing over and over again as he’d laid awake for the past three nights in a MACUSA cell. They hadn’t known where else to put him.
The silence lengthens. He wishes he had the power to make the floor swallow him up into nothingness.
“I will,” Mr. Graves says.
Credence’s head jerks up to stare in awe at the man whose appearance he knows so well. His face might be identical, but Credence knows that the imposter Percival Graves would have never gone to such trouble with nothing to gain.
“This boy saved my life,” he continues. “I’m only before you now because of Credence’s search for the man who introduced him to magic.”
“How do you mean?” asks a lightly accented voice from the other side of the room. Credence wonders if there was some memo the man missed; he rather got the impression that everyone in the room knew more about his life than he did. Maybe the man had been traveling, he thinks and nearly laughs at the ridiculousness of it. Not for the first time, he wonders how magic users travel. Not actually on brooms, surely.
Mr. Graves steps forward so he stands with his back to Credence. “For all that Grindelwald used and betrayed him, he was the first person to show Credence that magic wasn’t something to be ashamed of. When his obscurus form came under attack, his magic reached out for the familiar, the safe, but instead of finding the man he knew as Percival Graves, he found me-- shackled, bound, and silenced; kept alive only for the polyjuice potion.”
Whispers of curiosity go around the room. The squeaking man pipes up, “How did he free you? Neither of you had wands.”
Mr. Graves tilts his head. “He survived to nineteen with an obscurus inside him. A little wandless magic was not out of his reach, with a little guidance.”
The president sighs. “That was playing with fire. He could easily have killed you.”
“I would have died there anyhow,” he says coolly. “If you were all so incompetent as to not notice a wanted dark wizard in your midst, I doubt you would have found where he hid me before I wasted away.”
“You go too far, Mr. Graves,” booms the belligerent man from earlier.
“Silence,” the president says. “Considering recent events, perhaps someone should go too far. Our complacency has cost the wizarding community dearly.”
Credence’s hands ball into fists, nails digging into his palms until the skin breaks. He feels claustrophobic, confined. Sweat beads on his brow, and his breath comes in shallow bursts.
Mr. Graves glances at him. “On that note, perhaps we should wrap up. This is not an interrogation, Madam President.”
“Indeed it is not,” she agrees. “Though that will eventually be necessary, for now both you and the boy should rest. This senate is dismissed, scheduled to reconvene on the first of next month or when summoned. Remember, senators, we are still on high alert. Though your time is valuable, so too is our safety. Dismissed.”
The raised benches burst into a rumble of conversation. Credence looks around, unsure where to go or what to do. The room is overwhelming, a flood of colored robes and sensory overload. He’s just starting to wonder how much longer he can take it when a familiar hand falls on his shoulder.
“Come with me,” says Mr. Graves, so close that his breath ghosts over his ear, sending a shiver down his spine. Credence can only nod wordlessly.
He trails behind Mr. Graves, fighting the pressing crowd that automatically parts for the older man. Mr. Graves turns, grasping him by his sleeve and pulling him in front.
“Stand up straight,” he says, not unkindly, as he steers Credence forward. “They’ll move if you look like someone they should move for.”
Credence swallows hard and tries to straighten his back. He suspects he doesn’t succeed in looking like ‘someone they should move for’, but it does at least make him taller than most of the crowd. He’s led into a corridor, nearly stumbling as he hurries to keep up with Mr. Graves’s longer strides, and sags with relief when they reach an elevator.
Mr. Graves looks at him with mild concern as they move downwards. “Are you doing okay?”
Credence shrugs. He really doesn’t know. He’s still not convinced he really isn’t dead and that this isn’t some bizarre form of purgatory. Maybe Ma was wrong. Maybe purgatory really does exist, is more than a lie perpetuated by the Catholics to make them feel better for sinning.
“No urge to turn into a murderous ball of magic?”
That almost makes Credence smile. He shakes his head.
Mr. Graves claps his hands together. “Excellent,” he says, just as the elevator doors open. He leads them down a series of offices and desks-- row after row of desks filled with robed and suited figures and covered in scurrying paper mice. Workers lean over to whisper to their neighbors as they pass, and again it strikes Credence how many of them there are.
He speeds up to fall into step beside the other man. “How many, um, magic users are there?”
“According to the last census, roughly a million in the US alone,” Mr. Graves says unthinkingly.
Credence’s steps falter, stop. One million. Once, he would have been hard pressed to believe there was one. One million people like him. One million people with magic in the United States alone, and how many more around the world.
Credence shakes himself. “I’m fine,” he says. He’s ashamed to feel tears pooling in his eyes and hurriedly wipes at them with the back of his sleeve.
“Come on,” Mr. Graves says, voice low, understanding. He presses Credence forward with a hand between his bony shoulder blades, away from the prying eyes and hushed whispers.
Once they’re safely ensconced in a bookshelf-lined office, Mr. Graves all but sags into his desk chair. A fine sheen of sweat coats his brow, and for the first time since the night Credence found him, he looks exhausted. Credence wonders how he’s even keeping himself upright, less than a week after getting pulled from a literal hole in the ground.
Almost without his permission, Credence’s eyes track over him. Under the crisp lines of his suit, he’s thinner, more gaunt than the Mr. Graves he knew before. Credence wishes he couldn’t still see how attractive he is, wishes his eyes didn’t want to linger on the line of his jaw and the dark wash of his hair.
The older man catches him looking. “As long as he retained some of the original brew of polyjuice potion, Grindelwald had no need to keep me well fed, just alive,” he says, misinterpreting his staring.
Credence only nods and looks away, not knowing what to say to that. Instead, he asks, “Mr. Graves, did you really mean what you said back there?”
“All of it,” Mr. Graves says, “But to which part are you referring?”
“The-- the part about taking me in and-- and teaching me m-magic.”
Mr. Graves folds his hands on his desk and sighs. “I will not have them treat you as a criminal out of sheer laziness. You saved me, Credence, and even though it wasn’t me, I do feel some responsibility for Grindelwald's ill use of you. Yes, I meant it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Graves,” Credence says. “Thank you so much.”
“Have I mentioned how much I hate no-maj transit?” Mr. Graves sighs, changing the subject.
Credence blinks. “Sir?”
“They still have my wand impounded. Making it spit up every spell that bastard used for the past eleven months, I expect.”
”Why, um,” Credence starts. “What does that have to do with transit?
“A wand acts as a sort of focusing conductor for a wizard's magic,” Mr. Graves explains. “We can’t do much without a wand, and that includes apparition.”
“Apparition. Is that the--” Credence swirls his hand to indicate the way he’d watched the other Mr. Graves swirl away into nothingness.
This Mr. Graves smiles tiredly, almost fond, and it’s an expression Credence has never seen on that face. “Yes. This--” He mimics Credence’s gesture. “Is called apparition, and it’s incredibly dangerous without a wand. I’d likely leave my head behind if I so much as tried. So, the subway it is.”
Credence looks down. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t have money for the subway. I can walk, if you tell me where to go.”
Mr. Graves says nothing, instead begins opening and closing his desk drawers. “I swear, that damn man rearranged everything. How they never noticed-- ah,” He pulls out a small pouch and tosses it across the desk.
Credence catches it on instinct, and the older man nods for him to open it. Inside, dozens of coins clink together. He looks up. “Sir, I can’t.”
“Take them. The department has them falling out of our ears. They’re of no use in our world.”
He nods slowly and pockets the pouch. “Thank you, sir.”
He waves away the thanks. “You can stop with the ‘sir’ and ‘mister’. You don’t work for me, and I'm not forty quite yet. Call me Graves; no one calls me by my first name unless they want to annoy me.”
Credence is spared from coming up with a response by a knock on the door.
“Enter,” Graves calls, straightening until all signs of his previous fatigue are gone.
Credence brightens when the woman who’d tried to stop his mother-- Tina, he thinks she’s called-- steps into the office.
“How’s he doing?” she asks.
“Ask him; he can speak,” Graves says curtly. “And I’m fine, thanks for the concern.”
Tina levels him a speaking look but turns to Credence. “How are you?”
“Okay,” Credence says, voice dry and cracking. He’s not entirely sure how true or false the statement is.
“Overwhelmed,”Graves puts in for him. “I think I sent him into shock by telling him how large the American wizarding community is.”
She closes her eyes briefly, but only says, “How’d the senate hearing go?”
Tina makes an exasperated noise. “I’m a fool for having ever thought your time in Europe changed you.”
Graves smirks tiredly. “Yes, you are, but not as much of one as the rest of them. You at least got yourself kicked off the team early on. They had eleven months to notice. ‘Major Investigations,’ I ask you. They couldn’t even bother noticing the wanted criminal in their midst.”
“In their defense, sir, he did a very convincing impression of you.”
“So I’ve been informed.” He purses his lips in what would be a pout on anyone less dignified. “I hear you found a suitor while I was away.”
Tina rolls her eyes. “I don’t think ‘suitor’ is quite the right word, Mr. Graves. And you make it sound like you were away on vacation.”
Graves raises his eyebrows. “Bound and gagged in a pit? Still a vacation compared to the stupidity of this place. Christ, do me a favor, Goldstein, and don’t get yourself kicked off the investigative team again before I retire or kick it.”
“You’ll never retire.” She smiles. ”Speaking of, do you know yet when you’re returning to work?”
“They’ve put me on leave for the next three months-- too malnourished and traumatized, they says.” He snorts in a way that says exactly what he thinks about that. “We’ll see how long that lasts. Until then, I’d prefer not to simply lie in bed and convalesce.”
“So you’re going to teach Credence basic magic instead?” She asks, almost skeptically. Credence wonders at that, but he’s willing to venture a guess that it has something to do with Graves’s perceived level of patience.
“I see word travels fast as ever around here,” Graves says dryly. An idea appears to strike him. “Goldstein, imaginative, insightful Goldstein.”
She gives him an indulgently unimpressed look. ”Sir?”
“How about you side-along Credence and me to my apartment?”
“Hmm,” she says, putting a thoughtful finger to her lips. “I don’t think that’s in my job description.”
“Ms. Goldstein,” he starts seriously. “You can’t hold Grindelwald's actions against me.”
“Oh, never, sir,” she says, faux innocent. “I’m holding your actions against you. I haven’t forgotten the ever-tapping tap shoes incident.”
“I’m begging you, don’t make me take the subway. Think about the boy. He’s dead on his feet.”
“Fine,” she sighs. “But what’s the magic word?”
“Promotion,” he grits out.
That earns him a laugh. “Not the one I was thinking of, but it’ll do.”