Nurmengard was cold. The chill seeped up from the stone through his shoes, and Newt couldn’t be sure whether it was due to magic or mere ugly circumstance. The cell that he had been pushed into was at the top of a tower, judging from the cloud banks that fed sluggishly beneath the narrow window, and like the rest of the jail, it stank of unwashed bodies and worse. It was all so terribly medieval.
The alpha chained to the wall by short lengths of links from his wrists turned in his direction, sniffing. The real Percival Graves had been blindfolded, and was wearing what looked like several months’ worth of hair growth over his pale face. His silver and black hair had grown matted and lanky, and he was dressed in the torn, discoloured remains of a dress shirt and trousers, no socks or shoes. There was a chamber pot close by, though Newt couldn’t see how Graves was meant to use it—maybe the chain lengthened a couple of times a day?—and dirty bedding on the floor, old rags.
Which went to show, sometimes life was stranger than fiction. Although it had dawned on Newt that the ‘Percival Graves’ he had met in the interrogation room in the Woolworth building was not quite who he claimed he was, around when they had disapparated off into some kind of fortress/dungeon… it hadn’t quite occurred to Newt that foaming-at-the-mouth-crazy Evil Masterminds were actually a thing in real life.
“Who are you?” Graves demanded hoarsely.
“I’m Newt. Scamander. Err. Pleased to meet you. I mean, I would’ve been pleased to meet you, under normal circumstances.”
“Scamander.” Graves frowned to himself. For someone who was supposedly in a bad rut, he seemed perfectly in control. “Your accent, it’s British. Any relation to Theseus Scamander? Head of the DMLE?”
“I’m his younger brother.”
“Are you an Auror?”
“No. I’m a magizoologist.”
Graves exhaled, exasperated. “A what? Is this a rescue or are you a hostage?”
“Sort of neither,” Newt admitted. “Uh. I was led to believe that you were in a bad way, and. I agreed to calm you down.”
“You’re an omega.”
“Yes?” Newt edged cautiously over to the window, peering out. He couldn’t quite tell from the landscape where they were, and for a moment, his worry over his case, Tina, and Jacob pushed him close to panic. Pressing his face as close to the window as possible without touching the stone, he breathed deeply, trying to calm himself.
“Don’t be afraid.” Graves said, misunderstanding. He rattled his chains pointedly. “It’s not like I can get at you like this, even if I wanted to.”
Even if I wanted to. Guiltily, that brought Newt up short. He’d forgotten to consider whether Graves might even have wanted this, when he’d agreed to the bargain. “You’re… doing rather well,” Newt said cautiously. Graves let out a harsh laugh, leaning back against the wall. “Or not?”
“Give it a day. I shouldn’t have fucked around with heat tea for four years, but it worked out fine. Without a source, Grindelwald wouldn’t be able to keep up the polyjuice pretense, and presumably Picquery would finally figure things out.”
“Four years!” Newt said, aghast, then he clenched his fists. “All right. No. You’re not going to die. If anything,” he said quickly, as Graves started to object, “it’s going to be terribly depressing for me to watch.”
“Depressing?” Graves repeated, and curled his lip. “I’m so sorry about that,” he said acerbically. “Stay away from me.”
He followed his words with a push, an alpha-only form of wandless magic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Graves’ was stronger than most. The compulsion burned, and Newt twisted his face away, gritting his teeth. Discipline held. He breathed out, tightly, then more evenly. It wasn’t so hard. Wizards and witches weren’t the only magical beasts who knew how to push. Newt had faced down worse, from far larger creatures.
“That was terribly rude,” Newt said reproachfully, and he could see Graves stiffen in surprise.
“You’re.” Graves sniffed again. “You are an omega.”
“And you’re meant to be an Auror! Using a push against an omega without mutual consent’s illegal under the Statue of Secrecy.” Newt could even name the precise section, thanks to Theseus. ‘Just making sure that you’re aware of your rights’, his brother liked to say, before torturing him with quizzes. Suffrage was still young.
“I’ve never met an omega who wouldn’t just buckle before,” Graves said, still mystified.
“You did that to someone else?” Newt said stiffly.
“Only in a law enforcement capacity.” Graves took in a slow breath, then another, bowing his head. “Sorry. I’m sorry that I did that. But I don’t want your help. Wanted to… wanted to make sure that you didn’t try.”
“Well, you’re getting it,” Newt decided firmly. “Things are a mess out there and you don’t get to sit it out. I’ll help you through this, and then we’ll get out of here and get back to New York.”
“You think I’ve just been trying to ‘sit it out’?” Graves said, incredulous, and he was pushing again, because he was angry. “Fuck you.”
Graves was losing control. The rut was worsening. And Newt was starting to react to it, even though the stink in the cell had dampened matters. He could feel himself growing warmer, getting a little wet, his senses growing keener. Estrus. The fight or flight instinct, switched over to mating, dialled up. He removed his coat and vest, folding them in the cleanest part of the cell he could find, then he sighed, took another breath from the window, and stepped cautiously closer.
“Let me help you,” Newt said soothingly, once he was within reach.
“You said that you ‘agreed’ to this. You’re working for Grindelwald.”
“Unwillingly, I assure you. He has a case of my… ah, a case of important things and the lives of a couple of my friends in his hands.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Graves said, and actually sounded sincere. “But I don’t want to… with… for something like this, though,” he took in a harsh breath. “If it’d save your friends—”
“Shh. Calm down. We don’t need to get to that. I can still help you.”
“It’s biologically strange that magically inclined humans get into rut,” Newt said, gingerly straddling Graves’ lap, trying not to look too hard at the dirty clothes, undoing the blindfold. “In nature, it only happens to ruminant creatures. Deer, goats, astral rams, the like. We don’t ferment our food in specialised stomachs. But structurally, our alphas still go into rut, and our omegas into estrus, a unique quirk of nature that’s oddly separate from base gender.”
Graves seemed a little thrown by the lecture, but as Newt hoped, the careful, calm tone of Newt’s voice was proving reassuring: he was getting less tense, and didn’t try to buck him off, or rub against him. The moment the blindfold came off, Graves seemed to calm down a little, his eyes widening as he looked Newt over, as though surprised by what he saw. Disappointed, maybe? Newt ignored the faint worm of doubt as he talked.
“We do still get the aggressiveness, and the sexual inclinations, and the cycles. But it’s clearly tied to our magic. Muggles are all betas. And less powerful wizards and witches tend to be betas. There are exceptions, particularly—oddly—the animagus, but the more innately powerful you are, the more likely that you’re either an alpha or an omega.”
“I know that,” Graves said, though he sounded subdued. He flinched as Newt pressed fingers to his neck, though he let himself get pulled closer, and released a shaky breath as his lips pressed against Newt’s throat.
“One of my Professors had a theory that it was tied to magic specialties. All of us have areas of magic that we’re naturally better at. And. Although it’s not a study of magic that’s proven to be rather popular, she believed that people who were particularly strong at wandless magic were most usually alphas. While omegas tended to be very good at scrying and such,” Newt murmured, stroking Graves’ shoulders, his dirty hair, trying to calm him the way he would calm a spooked creature.
“What about you?” Graves whispered, his voice uneven. “What are you good at?”
“Care of beasts,” Newt said, with wry humour, and Graves actually managed a laugh, nuzzling Newt’s throat for a moment before he froze. Newt pretended not to notice. Or breathe in too deeply. “It made sense to me. My mother breeds hippogriffs, of which there are several subspecies, all of which have different preferences and traits, though they can all interbreed. It seemed logical to me that there might be, as it were, several subspecies of humans.”
“I can see why this was not a popular study of magic.”
“Hmm yes. It was all theoretical anyway. But either way. A human rut, like yours, doesn’t normally need, ah, sexual congress to wind down. Not all male deer are lucky enough to mate with female deer in estrus during a rut, nor do they die because of it. For alpha wizards and witches… heat tea tricks your body into thinking a cycle is over. But rut is a pressure valve. It can’t be put off forever. Particularly. If the alpha is very powerful. Magically.”
“I can smell you,” Graves said, a little thickly, distracted. “God. Even under… under everything. It smells so good.” His hips jerked up, rubbing up between Newt’s thighs, and Newt had to bite down on his lip to stifle his own moan. “Sorry,” Graves gasped.
“No. That’s all right.” Newt said, though it took all his self-control to project calm, to keep his breathing even. Graves was syncing to it, instinctively. They were breathing together. “My theory is, what we’re going through right now—rut and estrus—isn’t actually tied to reproduction at all, but to magic. That’s why it makes no real evolutionary sense, the same way that magical creatures don’t always make any evolutionary sense. Magic is the spanner in Mother Nature’s work.”
“Have you… I think I know what you’re trying to do,” Graves mumbled. “If it’s a pressure valve, and there are different strains of magic. Ending rut or estrus is a matter of… ngh… melding magic, isn’t it? Forging a connection?”
“The temporary heat bond, yes,” Newt said encouragingly. “That’s impressive. You’re making a logical leap even in the… circumstances.”
“Not that far gone yet,” Graves grit out. His hands were clenched tight in his chains as he started to tense up, but Newt rubbed his back in slow circles until their breathing synced again. “Have you done this before?”
“No,” Newt said, chuckling wryly. “Alphas are rare. And most of you people get mated early. Also, I do a lot of travelling.” Graves had an omega somewhere, perhaps. Was that why he had been so resistant at first? Newt offered whoever it was a silent apology, doing his best to tamp down on his instinctive envy.
“You seem like you have.” Graves relaxed further, his voice going slurred. He was pushing again now, and Newt didn't evade it this time, meeting it instead, allowing a heat bond to take seed. “You’re pretty. So pretty. I thought I was dreaming.”
That was the heat bond was talking now, though Newt couldn’t help but flush a little, pleased. “If I can calm a mantled Erumpent down by simulating a courtship ritual, I can calm down a member of my own species. But I’m going to need you to trust me,” he said carefully, as confidently as he could.
“I don’t know you.” Graves was trying to resist the bond instinctively, but thankfully, only briefly. “Yes. I trust you.”
“Good.” Newt reared back, grimacing at the distressed sound that Graves made. Quickly, he leaned their foreheads together, murmuring gentle, nonsense words until Graves calmed down again, and his eyes closed.
“I really need to be inside you,” Graves growled, and the push was harder this time, fed by the bond, but Newt was waiting for the wash of it, this rush of old magic, older than wands; with the bond in place, he reached for it, drinking it in, arousal spiking in his blood.
“Will you do what I want?” Newt whispered, for this was what nature had taught him. The male of the species, the alphas, might preen and posture, but it was the fairer sex that set them to dancing and fighting for their amusement.
Graves shuddered, his breathing hitching. “Yes. Please. I’ll take care of you, I’ll… what do you want? Tell me. I’ll do it.”
His trousers were probably ruined now, and distantly, Newt could hear his breathing hitching into little moans. He bit down on his lower lip, hard, until he could taste blood in his mouth, hear Graves sniff the air and make a sound of distress—omega wounded!—then he rode the connection, the way he had before to soothe and calm creatures, and fed it back.
“Sleep,” Newt commanded, and pressed his palm over Graves’ face. The body beneath him locked up, with a startled gasp, then Graves sank back against the wall, limp.
Satisfied, but breathing hard and drained to the bone, Newt sat back, grimacing at the tacky feeling of his clothes. He tried to get up to the window for some air, but Graves stirred the moment Newt shifted, with a low sound, frowning in his sleep. With a sigh, Newt settled back down, unbuttoning Graves’ shirt, checking for wounds. His pale skin was green and purple with bruises over his chest, nothing severe, though the muscle mass was wasting, ribs starting to show. Swallowing anger, Newt buttoned the shirt back up and leaned down, resting his cheek against Graves’ shoulder, trying to get as comfortable as he could. This was going to be hell on his knees.
“You’ve just prolonged the inevitable,” Graves said pointedly. “Grindelwald will be back. He’ll put you in a cell like this one. Chain you to the—” Graves cut himself off, turning his face away as though anguished by the very thought. The heat bond was still in place.
“He won’t.” Newt said, with forceful cheer, rubbing until sensation returned to his knees. “This isn’t actually my first time being thrown into a dungeon.”
“Really? The life of a magizoologist must be more exciting than I thought.”
“You’d be surprised.” Newt padded over to his coat. “Pickett? Pickett, wake up.”
The Bowtruckle peered cautiously out of his pocket, and climbed out, green limbs stretching. It waited as Newt pulled on his vest and coat, then climbed up to his shoulder. “That’s a Bowtruckle,” Graves said, to Newt’s surprise. “You had it in your pocket all this time?”
“You know what it is?”
“I’m the Director of Magical Security,” Graves said, annoyed. “And that’s an all-purpose lockpick on your shoulder.”
“Pickett is a friend,” Newt said, growing irritated himself, though whether it was feedback from the sync, he couldn’t quite tell.
“Well? Open these up,” Graves rattled his chains pointedly.
“Open these up, please,” Newt said pointedly. “Or are you normally this impolite when asking someone for a favour?”
Graves glowered at him, but when Newt held his stare, he dropped his eyes, shuddering. “Fine. Sorry. Please. Get me out of these.”
“Better.” Newt lowered his hand, nodding at Pickett, though the Bowtruckle had to be coaxed down to work. At least Graves kept still through it all, and afterwards, when Newt stepped back, nudging Pickett back on his shoulder, Graves rubbed his wrists, then his shoulder, frowning to himself.
Then he abruptly surged to his feet, and before Newt could blink, had the fingers of one hand around Newt’s throat. “Don’t put me to sleep like that again,” Graves grit out, though he didn’t push, and although his grip was firm, it was carefully light. Newt fought against his instinctive urge to twist free, and frowned at Graves instead, keeping eye contact, the way he would with an errant creature.
“Let me go.” When Graves glared, and didn’t move, Newt lied, “You’re hurting me.”
Graves dropped his hand as though scalded, looking sick: his own nature was punishing him. “Sorry,” he mumbled, though aggression was starting to bleed off him in waves. The stay of the rut was only temporary.
“Normally,” Newt said, as gently as he could, “I’d recommend waiting out your rut before trying to escape. But my friends are depending on me, and you’re out of immediate danger. I’m going to need you to trust me—and listen to me—if we’re both going to get out of here.”
“Nobody breaks out of Nurmengard.”
“I’m going to try. You can stay in here if you want,” Newt shot back, and got to the cell door. It wasn’t enchanted, thankfully, and as he peered out of the small grate at the top, he couldn’t see any guards, only an empty, dim corridor that wound away to a flight of stairs, set against the curved wall. He let Pickett out through the grate, waiting, until there was a little click at the door from waist level. Setting his hand against the grate, Newt pulled, and the door swung open.
“Well done,” Newt whispered to Pickett, which looked pleased, and allowed itself tucked into his pocket. He turned at the open door, to find Graves still standing indecisively by the wall. “Coming?”
“Do you actually know a way out of here?” There was something brittle about the question, desperation stretched thin over ingrained hopelessness. Graves had been here for weeks, probably months. Alone with nothing but his thoughts, save for the occasional polyjuice extraction, and judging from the mottled bruises, the occasional beating. Prolonged isolation was itself a most brutal form of torture. Newt had seen it before, in the creatures he rescued, shut into small cages that broke once proud beasts into drab shadows, waiting for death.
Forcing himself to walk back into the cell was difficult. Graves flinched back as Newt got close, though he shivered as Newt stroked his cheek, and was pliant enough as Newt pulled him down. Graves breathed deeply against Newt’s neck, scenting him, and with his palm pressed to Graves’ throat, Newt kept his own breathing even. Slow. They synced, though Graves fought it for a moment, his hand clenching and unclenching from a fist on the small of Newt’s back.
“I’m going to get us out of here,” Newt promised, trying to stay calm. “But you’re going to have to trust me. And I’m going to have to be able to trust you.”
There was a long, uneven pause, then Graves let out a low, strangled sound, as though his concession was being forced out of him. “All right. All right.”
It was going to be a big ask: Graves clearly wasn’t used to following orders, and Newt couldn’t be sure what solitary confinement had done to Graves’ state of mind. But the lives of Newt’s creatures and friends were at stake. He had to get out of here, and trust the heat bond to keep Graves under control—for all their sakes. “Come on, then,” Newt said encouragingly, backing slowly away to the door, and this time, Graves followed.