Percival Graves had always considered the Barebone girls exceptionally plain creatures. Etta Barebone was tall and skinny and all jawline and feline eyes and unruly black waves of hair. Her teeth had been crooked as a child but spelled straight at some point so her smile was freely given and wild and pleasant enough that one could ignore the ferret-like features of her face. Mary Lou, her unfortunate squib sister, was shorter and her features were knife-blade thin and her ill temper made her even more unfortunate to look at. Her lips had the constantly pinched appearance of someone who was angry at the world at large for no particular reason other than to be angry.
They were level headed girls, though, he would give them that. Intelligent and sharp and observant and cunning little creatures in their youth, honed even more with age.
Alois and Myrtle Barebone passed away young, barely into their seventies, and Etta ran off with some No-Maj, leaving Mary Lou as the last dredge of the Barebone name.
And Percival would rather die than marry Mary Lou Barebone.
So the betrothal had been avoided, somewhat. Mary Lou was never named the heir of the Barebone line and so none of her children, if she ever had any biological ones, would suffice for the betrothal between the house of Graves and the house of Barebone.
Percival, for his part, had been content to forget about the Barebones and their frightening, frustrating daughters and continue on with his life. After all, he wanted a career, he wanted a life outside the home. Certainly he didn’t want a woman at all, much less either one of the two Barebone girls. He was content with the loneliness, or at least that’s what he told himself. Neatly packing away his emotions, bottling them and storing him in a cellar in his chest. And if the bottles were a bit leaky then he just had to be careful not to light anything near them.
So when, nearly two decades after Etta Barebone had run off with her No-Maj, Mary Lou Barebone knocked on the door of his apartment, a tall, hunched figure trying to blend in with her shadow standing behind her, Percival was apprehensive enough to know that nothing good would come of Mary Lou darkening his doorway.
“Mary Lou Barebone.” He cleared his throat, staring down at the woman. He had seen her file on his desk, more than once, considered a terrorist but not doing enough, or being listened to enough, to gain traction among the No-Majs. Her photographs didn’t do the sharpness of her eyes justice, or the cold set of her jaw.
“Percival Graves.” The woman gave a sweet smile, the smile she used to try charming those more powerful than her normal crowd of bums and lunatics. She waited patiently and shen Graves sighed and stepped aside, leading the woman and the boy into his apartment, he resigned himself to the fact that he’d be entertaining the one person he didn’t want near his home. “Still living in sin, I see.” She gestured to the moving pictures, to the coffee pot in the kitchen now pouring out three mugs instead of just one.
“You grew up living like this, Mary Lou. So don’t go acting all high and mighty.” Sitting down at the small, square table he had in his dining room, Graves turned his eyes to the boy, who was staring, open mouthed and wide eyed at the room. “Sit.” He ordered, watching with a raised brow as the boy scrambled to obey.
“Percival, this is Credence Barebone. My nephew.”
“Your... Your nephew.” He had pictures of Credence too, blurry and never seeing his face fully, but he had always assumed the boy was one of the droves of orphans she collected. “Where’s Etta?”
“Dead.” The woman stated simply. “For some number of years now.”
Credence’s fingers twitched and he bowed his head slightly more, staring at his lap, and Percival felt the urge to reach out to the boy and stroke his too short bowl cut, to feel the vulnerable back of the boy’s neck and tug him close to hide him in his shoulder.
“He is the heir to the Barebone nameline.” The woman raised a brow at Percival. “I am bringing him to you to collect the bride price. In No-Maj money.”
The man froze, staring at the woman across from him, his eyes travelling over to Credence. His clothes were threadbare, too large, and his shoulders hunched in on himself, making him seem smaller than he was. Reaching over, Percival cupped the boy’s chin, forcing his face up to stare at him.
He’d recognize those feline eyes anywhere, beautiful and dark and observant. Etta’s eyes.
“Fuck.” The man whispered empathetically and Credence jumped as if he had slapped him, Percival jerking his hand back, startled as the boy cowered slightly and stared up at him.
Standing, Percival paced back and forth over his living room carpet, glancing back at the Barebones every so often before he continued his circuit. He walked into his office, glancing back at them before he rummaged through his desk drawer, pulling out a neatly rolled cigarette and sticking it between his lips. He stepped back out, tapping the end and lighting it before he turned his eyes to the two people seated at his table.
“What do you want, Mary Lou?”
“Only what I said, the bride price for Etta. Perhaps a bit more since my nephew is obviously more to your taste.” Percival’s eyes snapped to Mary Lou, the woman smirking smugly as she looked at him. “I assure you, he has the same inclinations.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want some degenerate like me in your house so you’re trying to pawn him off to me?”
“Certainly not. I’ve taught him how to clean, how to cook, how to run a household, care for children if you eventually decide to find some woman who you can tolerate enough to make one.” Mary Lou tapped her fingers upon the tabletop, and Credence shrank even further away from her. “Take the boy or I will send him to the cathouse as he is no use to me otherwise.”
Credence quailed at that, turning his eyes desperately up to Percival. “Please, sir, Mr. Graves, please take me.” He whispered, his hand shaking and reaching out for the older man’s sleeve only to pull back as if realising what he was about to do.
Years later, when asked what the worst decision of his life was, Percival Graves would think back to this moment.
He was certain that it was the moment he could pinpoint the exact moment that he had lost his goddamn mind to this boy.
“Credence, come here.” The man ordered, staring down at Credence as the boy stood on coltish long legs, hesitating to approach. He couldn’t blame the boy but still. Squaring his shoulders he vanished his cigarette and held out his hand to the boy. “Credence, I am your betrothed and you will come to me when I call you.”
The boy obeyed, but it was a close thing. The caution and fear in those vulnerable, wide eyes wrung something deep in Percival’s chest and he was lost to the scrawny little creature that was Credence Barebone. He opened his arm and Credence at least had the sense to infer what he was meant to do from the gesture. So he tucked himself close to Graves’ side, his head bending to press to the man’s shoulder and allowing Graves to wrap his arm snugly about his waist.
“Now.” The man looked to Mary Lou. “Are you happy, Mary Lou?”
“The cheque, Graves.” The woman stated simply, not moving from her seat.
Percival nodded, guiding Credence into his office quietly. He didn’t close the door, not trusting to not have easy access to the sight of Mary Lou, but he turned to Credence, quietly cupping his shoulders in his palms, looking down at the boy.
“Is this what you want, Credence?”
“Mr. Graves... It’s what my - my aunt raised me to do. I’ve...” Credence’s eyes dropped to the floor and he gripped at the man’s sleeve tightly. “I’ve known that I would eventually be yours.”
Percival grabbed the chequebook from his desk, clumsily filling out the cheque as only someone unaccustomed to the task could, before holding it out to Credence. “If you give this to her... Then that’s it. I can’t let you go after that.” He swallowed slightly before he spoke again. “I’ll... I’ll almost own you.”
Credence took the cheque without hesitation, glancing up before training his gaze to the ground. “You’ve already owned me for years, Mr. Graves.” He flushed slightly before he fiddled with a button of his shirt close to his sternum. “Now I just have a face I can put to you.”
The Graves Estate was located in Tarrytown, New York. It was a grand, sprawling manor, with extensive acres of land surrounding. There were countless rooms, hundreds if Credence was to guess, and for all the rooms it was so painfully empty.
Credence was not sure how his life had come to be like this. What had happened to make it so that he was seated in a parlour, one of dozens, in the Graves estate, looking out the window into the garden. Watching the man he would be marrying in less than a week pace around outside with a thunderous look on his face.
He had been like that for the past two hours.
Credence fiddled with the cup of hot chocolate that the house elf, Rosemary, had brought him, sipping at the still-warm drink carefully as his eyes followed Mr. Graves through his paces.
He had already had his final fitting for his suit. Mary Lou had been paid the bride price that had apparently been passed from his mother - Etta - to him. The ceremony would naturally take place at the Graves estate and the remainder of the Graves family had long ago arrived for the wedding that night. Credence’s new home was to be a brownstone in New York, in the nice part of town where he had never been allowed to hand out fliers for fear of the police being called. Percival had already sold his old apartment, his bachelor pad as Ernst had described it, with quite a bit arguing and snapping back and forth before reluctantly obeying his father’s wishes.
Credence’s hair had been tended to, spelled to grow out so that it could be trimmed and styled, falling into a sleek, soft bob that framed his sharp cheekbones and square jaw, softening him slightly. He slept alone in a luxurious bed and woke to a house elf, Rosemary was her name, opening his windows and coaxing him into his clothing at eight o’clock each morning. He had a whole trunk of clothing and linens and other such items in his trousseau, none of which were picked out by him, other than the great wooden trunk it was all packed in. He wore an engagement ring on his finger, a beautiful thing made of gold and delicate filigree and a square cut ruby embedded in the middle, flanked by two smaller diamonds on either side. He felt like he was walking around this grand estate, wearing something that could pay the ransom of an entire country.
Credence jumped as he realised that he had been caught staring, Percival Graves stopped in his pacing to stare at Credence. His shirt sleeves were rolled up and his collar was open, his tie loose about his throat, his waistcoat undone as well. The June heat was stifling, Credence was sure, and he felt the urge to go outside, to be with his betrothed and offer him lemonade or something cool to eat and drink. But there were house elves for that, and what Credence could pass as decent cooking was probably far surpassed by whatever Rosemary could whip up with a few quick snaps of her fingers.
He thought of the robe in his closet, part of his wedding garb, or more specifically for after the wedding. He thought of the contract that Ernst Graves had gone over with him, thought of the part stating Consummation of the Marriage: Carnal and Otherwise.
He thought of Mr. Graves and his cologne that was spicy and woodsy and muted and wonderful. He thought of pressing closer and closer to Mr. Graves and how wonderful it felt even though layers of clothes. He thought of all the years of Mary Lou telling him he was purchased by the devil, that he was already nearly bought and paid for by a man and that he would belong to him, that he would serve and honor and obey to repent for his sins. He thought of meeting Mr. Graves in person and how he had wanted the man to keep him, to take him away from Mary Lou and her unstable tempers. He thought of those dark, sharp brown eyes, almost black beneath the set of his brows and the serious lines of Percival Graves’ face.
The boy jumped, spilling his hot chocolate over his lap and freezing at the sight of the strict, pinched face of Antigone Graves. The boy felt his chest clenching as his breaths stuttered in the face of the woman’s disapproving gaze. “I’m so sorry. I’ll go - I’ll clean this up.”
“Don’t worry yourself.” The woman waved her wand and the stain was gone, the cleaned cup back on the table as if nothing had ever happened. “I suppose it’s the price to be paid.” She sighed, sitting across from Credence and watching her son out in the garden, the man returned to his pacing. “I hope you understand how... Disappointing this is.”
Credence’s eyes flickered to the woman and he nodded. He was used to that. To being a disappointment.
“Percival and Etta were at least magically equal. They would have made quite the formidable couple. Provide the Graves line with magically strong children. Unfortunate what has happened to your mother, but I suppose it cannot be helped.” Credence’s fingers instinctively lifted to the small golden locket he wore, the only memory he had of his mother, tucked beneath his shirt and close to his skin. “And now he’s going to marry a squib... The precise thing we had tried to avoid by refusing to let him marry that horrid Mary Lou. Such a disappointment.”
“Believe me, no one is afraid of disappointing Mr. Graves more than me.” Credence whispered, staring at the woman. Failure was not an option. Mary Lou had told him frequently that no one worth a single damn would care about him if he failed Mr. Graves. He’d be on the streets for any John to pay for, to buy for the hour, and that was almost even more frightening of a prospect than Hell. “I... I’ll be good for him, I promise.” His fingers trembled and he lowered them to his lap, clenching and fidgeting them together. “Please don’t send me back.” He choked out, looking up at Antigone for the first time, taking in the severe lines of her mouth and brows.
“We cannot very well send you back. It’s a matter of pride now.” The woman stood. “Whatever decisions have been made are now irreversible.” Antigone stared down at Credence and sighed. “As unfortunate as they might be... At least you are a comely creature and the wedding night shouldn’t be a chore for Percival.”
Credence flushed and looked down at his lap as Antigone left, fiddling with his engagement ring, staring at the deep red depths of the gem, before he looked over through the window at Mr. Graves, the man smoking what must have been his seventh cigarette in the last hour. He wondered if it’d always be like this. If he’d always feel as if he was looking at his husband through a glass partition, able to look but never truly reach him.
The Graves Estate was a massive, sprawling monstrosity of a house and Percival had never been more grateful for it. Growing up it had always seemed lonesome and too large, a perfect place to hide from your family when you didn’t want to worry about a wife or a needy child or an indifferent husband.
Now, Percival felt like a perfect coward using his knowledge of the estate to hide from his betrothed. He was the Director of Magical Security for all of MACUSA. He fought in horrific battles and tracked down dangerous criminals for a living. He had had the Killing Curse and half a dozen other nasty means of death thrown at him on no less than seventeen occasions (as the tally on the wall outside his office, dutifully updated by his underlings declared). He was the most powerful man second only to the President and a powerful wizard in his own right.
And here he was. Scared shitless by a little squib boy half his age.
“You’re pathetic, Percy.” Graves groaned, rubbing his face as he paced once more around the tennis court, nursing a bruise on his cheek. He had spent the last two hours in the court, being pelted by the equipment he had charmed into playing with him. After the last six balls that had caught him almost viciously in the face and stomach he had quickly called it a night and cut off the spell, for fear of where his invisible opponent might hit him next. He produced a towel out of thin air and dried the sweat from his hair, wandering in aimless circles as he thought of his impending marriage and what that might mean.
There was nothing wrong with Credence. The boy was, if anything, wholly delightful, beautiful, young and smart as a whip when given proper intellectual nourishment. He was gentle and kind and considerate, even when met with nothing but indifference from the Graves family. Percival guiltily acknowledged that he had done his best to avoid his fiance and had not helped in the slightest in regards to the murmurs his extended family had about the boy. Leaving the tennis court, he took to the grounds, wandering around the perimeter of the house, attempting to regain his bearings and steady himself in ways the physical exertion had not.
Perhaps the most difficult part of it all was that Credence was, in fact, incredibly desirable. Skinny and pale and ill-kept by his aunt, but all of that had been quickly fixed by the care of the Graves household. What had been undernourishment had turned to slenderness, what had been a sickly wane complexion had turned to something milky and delectable, new clothes that fit had gone a long ways to highlight all of this and damnit Percival knew it.
Walking past the Solarium he glanced out of the large, glassed in room and froze at the sight of the construct, filled with magical and mundane herbs aplenty, currently occupied by a familiar dark figure.
Sneaking over to the doorway, Percival peered through to see Credence sitting on a chaise lounge before a small coffee table, reading a book on herbology and magical uses while whispering the names to himself and peering about the room quietly, curiously.
“Periculid.” The boy murmured, looking at the flower curiously, not touching but still enchanted nonetheless. His delicate fingers traced the air about the bright red-orange petals, the slender stamen rich with pollen.
“They’re deadly.” Graves called from the doorway, lingering quietly. “Don’t touch them.”
Credence snapped his hand back, staring over at Graves before he flushed and looked back at the flower. “Yes, but they are very lovely to look at.”
“Dangerous things often are.” Graves didn’t move from where he lingered in the doorway. Credence carefully angled his body away from the man, clutching the book to his chest and slowly inching until the chaise lounge was between them. Percival paused before something clicked for him and he cleared his throat, shifting in place slightly. “I’m sorry. I made you uncomfortable.”
“No - no you... I mean yes.” The boy whispered, looking shyly up at Graves and placing his hand on the chaise. “You’re quite frightening.” He whispered, biting his lip even after the words came out.
Percival paused, staring at that soft, full lip and imagining taking it into his own mouth. If he slipped his thumb over the plush flesh he was quite certain he could easily press it into Credence’s mouth, watch the boy suckle on the digit, his lips pursed softly -
A sharp nod and a turn and Percival was quickly making his way away from the boy, out of the Solarium and tennis court and through several hallways until he was well on the other side of the Estate, in one of the studies where his father kept the day wine that he often took after breakfast.
“Credence. Credence! Wake up!”
Credence gasped as if surfacing from a great body of water, grabbing at the hands clutching his shoulders, his nails digging into the backs of Graves’ palms as the man’s eyes swam into his vision.
They sat together, breathing heavily and staring at one another, Credence still sprawled on the bed and Graves bent over him, sitting on the edge and holding the boy’s shoulders, gently stroking his thumbs over the edges of sharp collarbones as broad hands cradled the joins of his shoulders. The touch was heavenly and whatever fear or distress Credence might have felt melted away into something warm and liquid in his stomach. He stared up at Mr. Graves, his handsome face and his hair mussed from sleep, his white undershirt and the robe he had obviously thrown on over his smalls.
Credence thought back to a book of fairy tales that he had seen once as a child, of a princess sleeping away her life and a prince who had kissed her awake. He flushed as he thought of Mr. Graves doing the same to him, even though he knows that the man had woken him much more abruptly and roughly than a kiss.
“You were screaming.” The man whispered, his voice hoarse with worry as he pressed his face to the boy’s temple, pulling him close. “You were screaming and I couldn’t move, I didn’t know what to do so I just...” His grip on the boy’s shoulders tightened and Credence felt a piece slot into place, realising that Graves had probably shaken him awake.
Credence’s fingers tangled in the back of the man’s pajamas, clinging tightly as their breathing evened out together.
“You scared the daylights out of me.” The man murmured, pulling back slowly and Credence felt bereft at the loss, grabbing at Graves’ hands and pulling him back.
“Stay.” The boy whispered, staring up at Graves.
“I’m not allowed in here. I had to fight with the door to gain access.” The man murmured, stroking his fingers over Credence’s temple. “Mother and Father don’t want me ruining your virtue.”
“Please.” Credence hiccuped, tears brimming in his eyes, the boy unable to stop them as he clutched at Percival’s arms. “I don’t want to be alone, Mr. Graves.” He sounded so needy and it was pathetic, but he was now frightened of sleeping again. And Mr. Graves’ arms were so warm and heavy and certainly he would be well protected by Percival. Percival the wizard policeman, the Auror.
The man seemed to wage a quiet war with himself before he laid down, carefully pulling Credence to his chest and pressing their bodies together, shoulder to ankle. Credence sighed and nuzzled into the man’s neck, his eyes closing even as he felt the lines of tension in the man’s body tighten. The broad hand on his back didn’t stop moving, however, and Credence sighed, shivering and pressing closer as the man’s palm slid over the curve of his spine.
Percival, for his part, was doing his best to avoid the feelings of arousal that had crept upon him. The boy had opened his eyes and stared at Percival like he was God. Now the boy slept, with long, tear-damp lashes fluttering against his cheeks as he pressed his sharp, slightly crooked nose against Graves’ collarbone. His breath ghosted over skin as Graves stared at full, softly parted lips, wondering about rubbing his thumb over them and slipping the digit into his mouth.
He imagined it would be so easy to coax the soft mouth open, to kiss the tender skin, to gently coax Credence until his tongue traced curiously over Percival’s thumb, sucking delicately, full lips pursed the same way they would be around his cock.
Percival bit back a groan at the erection he had formed, hoping that the boy was deep enough asleep that he didn’t notice the hardness pressed to his thigh now. Pressing his nose to the boy’s spelled hair and breathing deeply of the scent of vanilla that clung to him, smelling Rosemary’s cinnamon snap cookies on the pale skin as well and smiling as he pressed closer. Credence sighed against the man’s throat and Graves closed his eyes, promising to wake himself before daylight to sneak back into his room.
Credence was staring at him from across the room. Graves had taken up roost in the chair his father usually occupied, reading files sent to him from MACUSA. He had finished filling out his paperwork for the marriage, and was currently working on something that made him glance over at Credence with an assessing gaze every so often.
The boy flushed as their eyes met and he reached down to turn a page in his own book, an Austen novel he had taken to. He liked Mr. Darcy. The shy, quiet love interest of the main character. He couldn’t help that in his mind’s eye Mr. Darcy looked exactly like his Mr. Graves, all broad shoulders and the handsome cut of his features and the silver at his temples, his slicked back hair dark and thick.
“You wear scorpions a lot.” The boy called out, shy but curious still. His eyes flickered to the stickpins at the man’s collar, the black scorpions holding small rubies between their tiny claws.
“The family symbol.” The man stated simply, glancing over as well, their eyes meeting for a brief moment. “Come over here.” He held out his hand and Credence approached, slowly, carefully, before the man took Credence’s hand in his own, rubbing his thumb over the ruby of the ring. He couldn’t help the shiver that escaped him as Percival stared up at him, eyes searching for something that Credence was uncertain he had. He felt barren for that moment, filled with nothing and waiting for Percival to pour meaning down his gullet until he was full.
Credence gasped as he saw a small black scorpion appear in the glittering ruby depths, carved into the gold setting. Mr. Graves smiled and leaned forward to kiss the ring, looking up at Credence. “If you ever wish to see me, then all you need do is touch the ring and think of me.”
The boy looked to Graves and the man was caught with the fever brightness of those eyes, with the way Credence stared at him as if he had given him the key to the world. The man stared into those feline eyes and leaned slowly forward, sliding his palm over Credence’s jaw, over the sharp edge of bone and back to cup the base of his skull.
“Credence.” Graves murmured, looking at those soft lips, parting around a gasp.
And suddenly his need had grown teeth, had become ravenous and desperate, like a wolf starved in the mountains suddenly finding the fat, vulnerable form of a lamb separated from the flock. It became far too much to resist that starving hunger for the boy, for his touch and taste and the soft sigh of pleasure that ghosted over his lips as they met.
Staring down at Credence, Percival couldn’t help the soft smile that curved over his mouth, smoothing his thumb over the boy’s plush lips as Credence’s eyes fluttered open and he stared at him.
“You should go back to your book, Credence.” The man murmured, still rubbing his thumb over the soft flesh.
“I don’t think I want to.” The boy whispered back, kissing at Graves’ thumb gently, looking up at him, eyes lidded and hungry and curious, wanting so desperately as the slim chest pressed to Percival’s own broader torso.
Graves groaned, sliding his hand over Credence’s back, cupping and pulling him close until the boy tilted his face to tuck against Percival’s throat. “Sweet boy... I don’t deserve you.” He murmured into the neatly styled bob of the boy’s hair.
Credence’s head snapped up and he stared at the man, clutching at his lapel tightly. “You can’t send me back.” The boy whispered. “I’ll be good for you, I promise. I don’t know how to be a - a wizard, but I can be your wife, I can be whatever you want, please-”
“Master Percival!” Rosemary’s squeaky voice called from the doorway and Percival glanced over, seeing the disapproving stare she gave. “Not until the wedding night!” She popped over before the man could blink, grasping Credence’s wrist and dragging him away. “No canoodling!” She ordered, waving a finger at Percival as the man stood, watching Credence being led, shame-faced, away from the parlor.
Goddamnit. He was going to lose himself to this sweet boy.