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A Wizard's Devotional

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Tina's guilt at having to hide something undoes them all. The problem is mostly that she's so law-abiding and morally just. It would have been better to smuggle Credence out without having told her anything, but to be angry at her was useless, and the thought of leaving her behind to think she had been in any way responsible for his death had been unthinkable.

Newt had pressed a copy of every bit of study he'd done on the Obscurus into Credence's hands before they deported him, and that had been over a week ago. (Or multiple weeks ago, it was hard to tell at this point.)

They'd taken the notes away the first day, but Credence could still recall diagrams, words he didn't understand, and some he did. He knew he should be dead, knew he was abhorrent, knew he was ultimately in trouble.

"I'm sorry Credence, it will be okay." Miss Tina tells him, and he doesn't believe her, but he likes her, so he nods and follows the Aurors – which is another word he knows and doesn't know the meaning of – out and through corridors. And then there are so, so many people, and he wishes he could fade away and be no more.

The ward he's being told he's standing in prevents magic from being cast. It is glowing very bright white, and it doesn't stop the entire time he’s standing in it.

For an hour they argue over his head, so many people, and the visions of his crimes float over that, in the enchanted space above him, and he stays with head down till all the voices blur into one. Tina is at his side, equally silent. Eventually the blend of voices quiets to a hum, and Credence knows it's an hour because he'd gotten good at telling time without a watch when a whipping was punishment for being late.

Silence, and the sound of metal tipped shoes clicking smartly on the marble flooring. He sees fancy brogues come up next to his thin boots and his breath holds fast in the cage of his chest.

"Director Graves," a voice greets.

"I apologize for my lateness; it took some time for my paperwork to be cleared by Healer Monroe."

A murmur through the room. Credence closes his eyes and tries to breathe through it.

The most important person in the room, Credence had picked out quickly enough, is the woman sitting at the forefront of it. There is a space beside her to her right that he notes is empty, and he glances at the shoes to his own right again and makes guesses. He's often right. "We have convened to judge the fate of the Obscurial." she says, "What is your input on the manner?"

"The Barebone child came to my attention after Auror Goldstein's attack on his mother. In a cursory follow up after this, I discovered that the obliviation on Credence Barebone had not worked. He retained memories of us. I began to suspect he had magical lineage at this point. It was from this that his presence came to be noticed by my impostor. I believe we are, and to avoid casting blame about that, I am, solely responsible for the actions Mr. Barebone was forced to take." A murmuring crest. "We owe it to him to right this injustice and place him into wizarding society as best we are able, where he has belonged all along." An explosion of sound arises in rebuttal.

Tina reaches out and takes his hand gently.

They break to have lunch, and he isn't brought back to his cell but instead to a nicely fitted room with beautiful things all around, and little paper mice fighting each other over an empty ink well. There is a collection of chairs around a table and Tina comes in with a tray, followed by a very pretty woman with golden hair, and then finally by Mister Graves.

He averts his eyes to the table, watches the tray slide onto it.

"It'll be fine Credence," Tina lies again, "Have some lunch okay?"

He picks up the hot drink from the tray but just holds it in his hands, letting the warmth seep through.

"Goldstein-" Both women look at Mister Graves and he frowns. Not that Credence can see, no, but it’s in his tone when he speaks again, "Auror Goldstein," he starts over, "I need you to run down to Wizarding Registration and look for the Ilvermorny letters on file from nine to ten years ago."

When Tina has rushed off, Credence can't hear what the man murmurs to who must be her sister, but she moves to sit down next to him and then they're alone, and he takes a steadying breath.

"Awful loud aren't they? Just like a bunch of parrots. You never met me but I'm Queenie." He manages to meet her eyes, "There now, make sure you eat up okay? I made that sandwich just for you!"

Now he has to eat it, it would be rude otherwise. His stomach ties into knots, but he has to.

"Just take it slow sweetheart, you're okay. Two of the best and the brightest are on the case!"

He's a case now, or he's always been one, but to what ends are they fighting? He wants to trust Tina, she's only ever been kind to him, but he knows how very little power a person can have first-hand.

Tina isn't with Mister Graves when he returns and instead it's Queenie who comes in and stands at his side, and she takes his hand when another discussion begins.

"If you believe he should be placed in wizarding society, where do you intend he should be placed, Director Graves?" Another person asks, sharp, and Credence can feel hatred, fear, distaste all around him. Queenie squeezes his hand gently. Have strength, it whispers, and gives him clarity.

"Certainly we cannot send him to school at his age." A laugh sounds to accompany this claim, and then a murmur of voices in agreement.

"Who do you expect to have the skill and time to devote to habituating him to our ways?"

Mister Graves stands in the same exacting fashion to his right as he had when he'd first come in, and Credence has memorized the intricate curved designs on his shoes already. "Myself, which is why I am submitting now a request that I be put on seven months light duty followed by a three month period of shadowing my temporary replacement before I be reinstated as Director."

It is that very important voice which speaks up next, "Percival, you need not prove your loyalty to Congress. Healer Monroe found you fit. If that is not good enough for the assembled, they would do well to bring it to me." She pauses; Credence can almost make out her careful nod, "But in this no one assembled has the right to judge your loyalty, and I myself greatly respect your counsel. We will break for the day and tomorrow we will decide. I release the Obscurus into your custody in the meantime, Director Graves." There is a murmur of voices, but they do not dare to grow too loud in their unhappiness.

They lead him back to the small room. There is only one paper mouse left and it is sleeping in the empty inkwell. They don’t stay long, just enough for Tina and Mister Graves to speak to one another in quiet voices before gathering their things to leave. Credence is dizzy with the sudden breath of fresh air, the freedom after being so long imprisoned.

Credence learns three things on the way to Mister Graves' apartment. The first is what an Auror is: it is what Mister Graves and Tina are, a sort of police officer for magical persons. This answer he gets from Mister Graves, who leans in, not touching, just close enough to almost touch, and whispers it to him from beside him.

The second is that the sick twisting transference, where he started in one place and was pulled to another by Him, is called apparition, and it feels much better when he has Queenie and Tina bracketing him in. This is explained as Mister Graves walks backwards, Credence watching his shoes on the sidewalk as they come out on the mostly empty street, and he's not even nauseated like he'd been before. Mister Graves is an attentive teacher.

The third thing is that Mister Graves lives in a place far too nice for Credence to be in, far too nice. There is a doorman, and an elevator, and even Tina and Queenie walk like they're afraid of making something dirty.

"It is a little messy, as to be expected. The Investigative staff turned it over looking for evidence but it doesn't appear he lived here." Mister Graves says, no longer walking backwards. "Tina, I'd like your assistance relaying wards, if you would?"

"Yes sir!" She sounds glad to have something to do, and Credence can sympathize.

"Queenie, be a doll and go buy him clothes that will let him fit in; I want Congress to be unable to pick him out as no-maj tomorrow. Overdo it if you need to." Mister Graves puts money in her hand and she's gone in a swirl before Credence can protest. Have they not already done enough for him? His clothing is perfectly wearable still; the patches in his sleeves don't even need freshening up yet.

Mister Graves pauses, Credence can feel his eyes on him, and it makes his stomach turn over . He has nothing to do now; he wishes he had something to do. "Can you read?" Mister Graves pitches his voice to a whisper as he had when he'd been explaining what an Auror was.

"Yes sir, I worked in the press setting the letters for the pamphlets and never spelled a single word wrong." Or he'd have been beaten for that too, so he remembered well. And what’s more besides , those who couldn't read couldn't read from the Good Book, and that was slothful. It did ultimately help that Puritans had a wide variety of ways to spell a word so there was a smaller margin of error.

"Good, good." And Mister Graves moves fast out of his sight, so he has to look up to follow his feet and looks up too far to the lines of energy and purpose in the fall of his coat, and there is a life there he can't believe he never noticed before, a vibrancy. Except, pausing, feeling the sick turning of the sandwich in his stomach, the ash taste in his mouth, of course he'd missed it. Or forgotten it maybe, when everything had been layered over so desperately with Him.

He wants to ask Mister Graves how many meetings had been him, wants to know when it began. He accidentally meets dark brown eyes when the man turns back, a book in his hand. Mister Graves is careful not to touch skin, to brush their hands together in any way, to press too close when he puts the book into Credence's hands. Credence notices that now too.

"Start in on this." Mister Graves says, and Credence looks down, American Magical History. Credence has to remember how to breathe.

He registers the others moving around outside the sitting room , noises, sometimes a crash or two, Tina laughing out loudly once. He's two chapters in, past the first Native school and into the journey of the Pilgrims and Isolt Sayre, the one European witch among them, when Queenie returns. He puts the book down carefully as she takes measurements with a floating tape-measure, and he watches it wide eyed as it curves around him snake-like. She takes in the clothing herself, enchanting hems in place.

Tina and Mister Graves stop their mysterious work long enough to come and watch, and Queenie has bought him enough clothing for a change each day of the week. And it's too much and Credence doesn't deserve this, he doesn't, but it would be rude to turn away this kindness in front of Mister Graves’ friends.

"Let’s take a break," Mister Graves says and Credence glances over to see the coat gone, his shirt sleeves rolled up. He breaks his gaze back to the ground, feeling like he's been dropped several feet to hit hard. "It's dinner time anyway, I'll order us something and then we can get into those papers for the Ilvermorny eagles. The second floor can wait ‘til tomorrow; I'll just bunk in the study tonight."

Credence barely touches his roast chicken; it's so rich and there is even gravy, and he only knows gravy as a concept. The vegetables settle better in his stomach but even then there is butter, which he only knows from a vague memory of getting into the bins behind Lionelli's Bistro before getting caned for it, so even that is enough to make him a little queasy. Someone puts another slice of plain bread on his plate when he isn't looking. It is easier to stomach by far in comparison.

"Leonard Quirm?" Tina reads off the list, three names down. One of them had been a girl they'd almost been sure, but she'd marked it with a maybe just in case.

Mister Graves flips through his own list, "No, we've got a wand, December fifth."

"I can't believe Abernathy just handed all of those files over." Tina complains, for the second time.

"He's terrified of me; it's not that hard to get what you want from him if he thinks you're going to hex him into Saturday after next. Maybe if you didn't hide under your desk?"

"His voice is so, so grating. I'm not hiding from him, I just didn't like to hear him any more than I had to."

"I don't think you look like a Leonard either, honey." Queenie smiles at him; he's sure it's her slice of bread.

"James Lionheart?" But Tina shakes her head right away, "Okay I know, stupid yes, he works in that shop on Dragonscale."

Mister Graves snorts a sound of amusement and Credence manages to look past his plate to the careful recline of the man, one hand holding his list, the other splayed open-palmed on his stomach. Oh, oh heavens. The waistcoat stretched taut, fine embroidery glinting in the light, and there isn't even recognition of his own attraction before he's already jumped tracks into panic. She'll know, she'll know, she always knows, followed swiftly by a sickening stifling guilt that has him breathing shallow, vision spinning, because she won't know.

She's dead, Ma is dead, and it's his fault, he killed her, and how could he do such a thing, what a wicked boy, what sin, murder. He doesn't know anything but noise like radio static from the shop next to the church, doesn't know anything but pain in his chest like his heart trying to collapse on itself, worse still, doesn't know anything until it's Queenie petting his hair and he's not in the kitchen, he's on the sofa he'd been reading on, and his face is wet, like he's been crying.

He's been crying. "There now sweetheart, there now, just breathe with me." Queenie says, and Tina is holding his hand and Mister Graves is in the doorway, as if he's afraid to come in any further. "Some cold water?" Queenie asks, and then Mister Graves is gone from the doorway too.

He drinks the glass and then it's refilled by magic, and the wonder of it draws him from the spell. He is exhausted, and Queenie bustles around, "No, of course we won't leave." It's like she can read his thoughts. She smiles at him and nods very slowly, and he opens his eyes very wide.

A pillow is fetched and the light in the sitting room dimmed, and he can hear them still in the kitchen, voices just loud enough to make out.

"Harold Lovelock?"

"Wand."

"Pepper Pince, oh wait, no, we busted him for illegal Felix Felicis sales two years back didn't we?"

"You were a rookie on that case, took a hex right to the face and kept going." Mister Graves sounds amused, and Credence just feels worry thread through him for Tina.

"Sir, I saw you take a support pillar to the leg one time and walk off bone regrowth potion, let’s not make this a contest."

Credence is drifting in the dim light with the hum of slowly familiar and warm voices pacifying him, the pain in his chest a dull memory.

"Tenebris Nyx." Tina reads off the list.

"Artemisia Nyx had a son?" Is what Mister Graves asks, a flutter of pages. "No wand here, let me see that list."

Credence falls asleep to the sound of quickly turning pages.

Chapter Text

He dreams of a deep voice whispering him promises and a harsh hand, he dreams of Isolt's flight to the Americas to escape the oppression of her aunt Gormlaith Gaunt, who had burned her mother and father for their blood sins, and he dreams of automatically refilling tea cups and dark cells, and pain.

He wakes to a throw being tucked in around him, a heavy hand starting back away from him as if burned. "Didn't mean to wake you." Mister Graves whispers, "Go back to sleep Credence, it's very late," a rueful smile, "Or early depending on your point of view." He does as bidden .

He washes and dresses the next morning, and by the time he's made his way to the kitchen Queenie and Tina are back. More papers and even a few books are strewn over the table, and Credence, who has seen moving pictures on the walls, is still overcome by the pictures in the texts. The one Mister Graves had lent him to read had no such pictures, but in these there are bright shifting ones, tiny representations of paintings, so stark and beautiful in contrast.

He is drawn to the books as the wizards talk on the other side of the table.

"Oh you look a treat!" Queenie stops them and Credence looks up startled, recoiling just a little, but Tina and Queenie look so, they look proud of him, and Mister Graves, he can't tell what he looks to be, his jaw is tight and his eyes focused on Credence's tie, the tiny buttons of his vest. Maybe it's not a good color, he's not sure, vanity is a sin and he'd tried not to linger before the mirror, fingers stroking the silk of the vest, overly long.

"There was something," Graves murmurs and steps out of the room. Credence looks back to the books in his absence.

"Do all pictures move like this here?"

Tina leans over the table to look at the painting, the woman holding the sword to the slice of a throat, the symbolic horror on a gaping blood-soaked face, sweat and shadows. She cringes away from the violence depicted, "Most, but certainly not so graphically. What terrible subject matter."

Credence looks back down at the book where his fingers follow the unevenly bound pages in one singular stroke, the mark of a hand-bound volume in the imperfection of the text block. The paper is soft with age and the colors of the painting are unlike any he has seen in the presses. It comes to him then that wizards must use different pigments. It is a whole world of otherness opening up yet again.

"She saved her city, Bethulia from him; her the virtuous widow, protecting the chastity of her equally virtuous city from the invading forces of Nebuchadnezzar." Tina and Queenie tilt their heads at him, and he whispers self-consciously, "It's in the Bible."

Credence is finishing the history lesson, flushed in embarrassment, when Mister Graves returns with a coat in hand. Credence is helped into the coat; his words stutter over themselves as hands guide his arms down silk-lined sleeves, his head spinning . Mister Graves' hands are very warm even through the layers of his new clothing, very heavy, and the imprints remain like ghosts behind, but they are perfunctory and practical and end as soon as they begin.

Queenie bustles between them with a smile when Mister Graves' hands are hovering lost between them. "Let me take that robe in for you honey."

Mister Graves takes a quick step back, turning his attention to the books, "As I was saying, I did a little more digging after I sent you two home. I had some case files brought over on the first mail out this morning at four. Artemisia was victim of arson and no children were present, but it's possible. There was a whole rash of fire-related deaths that summer. Smoke inhalation. We had someone interfacing with the no-maj force, but you know how little we get out of that." Mister Graves' hands follow the same track down the uneven corner as Credence's hand had. Queenie turns him about in small circles and Credence can feel his sleeves tightening just a little bit.

"Queenie, do something with his hair if you can?" Mister Graves murmurs, and continues, "We always suspected it was some sort of faulty floo powder, but now I'm not so sure. This was before I was director. I'll need to send an eagle to Lilian Frost and see what she remembers about it."

Credence feels his stomach turning, feels cold and hot all at once, "M-ma, my, Ma said," and Queenie soothes a hand down his arm, "She said my mother was burned for being a witch."

He wants to say cursing is a sin, it's on the tip of his tongue, but it seems wrong to chastise Mister Graves in his own house . Still, the words that slip out of the man are not fit for civilized ears and Credence looks down, tucked away internally.

Queenie has her arm around him still after the apparition they take to leave the apartment. He's trying to get used to it, but it leaves him dizzy like a day too long handing out pamphlets in the cold. The elevator is pulled shut by a tiny man with inhuman facial features who seems too terrified of Mister Graves to pay heed to anyone else, let alone Credence.

"Investigations," Mister Graves orders and then turns his attention back to them. "Tina, go sniff around and see if you can't find anything in records about the Nyx incident."

"Credence hasn't had breakfast yet." Queenie informs them, and he turns inward.

Mister Graves glances at him, nods. Credence is managing to look at his shoulders now; he wonders if that's too forward. "Right, let's have a bite to eat in my office while I pen a letter, does that sound good to you?"

Credence nods, unsure what else to do.

"Something light," Queenie whispers before she leaves, and he overhears because he is a bad child who listens in where he shouldn't – except she blows him a kiss and he doesn't know what to do with her bright smile but stand in the middle of this office too nice for him to be in.

"Your robe," Mister Graves helps him out of the strange coat, "They're going to fight us on this, but don't worry, we're gathering our ammunition."

"Mister Graves," he whispers so quietly he knows the man can't hear him, across the room hanging up Credence’s robes alongside his own, "Mister Graves?"

"Yes, Credence?" It's said so easily, with none of the strange melodic intonation he'd associated with Mister Graves saying his name before. He feels his face grow hot, feels a spike like anger in the pit of his stomach. He likes the way his name sounds now, Matthew 6:24. No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. He likes the way Mister Graves says his name.

"I do not want to be a burden to you."

Mister Graves reaches out as if to touch his shoulder or arm but then pauses and puts his hand back down; Credence follows it with his gaze and watches fingers that curl inward, a tremor, but otherwise strong, sure hands that move to still with a brush against the pressed pleats of his slacks.

"You are not a burden, Credence. I knew you had magic in you the moment we met. When Tina asked me to look in after you I refused her, but did it anyway because she has a way of seeing things that should be valued. I'm glad I did; It was obvious you didn’t belong there."

Credence holds himself, arms wrapped tight.

"There is no one Congress would agree to that I could offer, I am the only candidate I would trust to introduce you to our world properly."

"Is there someone Congress would not agree to?"

Mister Graves laughs softly and Credence manages to see the rueful curve of his lips, "You're clever. Yes, from what I've read Mister Scamander would have been sufficient. He's also been deported."

Breakfast is orange juice (and water), eggs on toast (a piece of toast and a very light dip of egg yolk) and sliced tomatoes (Credence tries one with salt and quite likes it.)

He reads the headlines of the day's copy of The New York Ghost and marvels at the moving pictures there too, the ad copy selling such things as endless repeat records, self-reciting children's books, enchanted paint sets, and potion-proof dry cleaning. It's missing the front page insert and Credence suspects he knows why, from the trash bin he can see half a front page headline, Scandal in Congress.

Tina comes in with a heavy box filled with files that has a light coating of dust, but that, and that which had gotten onto her, is banished with a flick of Mister Graves' hand. "Nonverbal and wandless magic is something you have to work very hard for, Credence." He explains, "You'll need a wand, but I hazard a guess that you'll be skilled enough in magic when given training to work spells without it. We'll need to teach you in reverse."

Files are divided between Tina and Mister Graves, and Credence considers this, a wand of his own. He'd picked up a stick once after meeting Tina; it hadn't done anything when he'd pointed it around, but he'd always expected there was more to wands than old oak twigs that fell off the tree behind the Church.

"I hadn't thought of that, he won’t be building up his power as a child would ." Tina considers this, "Mister Graves, you'll probably want some lock-down charms on your training room."

"We'll add that to the list of wards; I see your point."

It's all too much, too much hope, too much kindness, and they're speaking like it's up to them, but Credence knew that it wasn't. He'd been standing in that room, had heard those voices rise in anger and fear over him, and rightfully so; he was a murderer, a killer.

Tina sounds so hopeful, "How soon do you think they'll agree to give him a wand license?"

"Abernathy wouldn't dare deny me the request."

He was bad, deserved every punishment, and he'd deserved all those wands turned on him, and he could remember Tina shouting, and Mister Scamander, and Him. A miracle, He had called Credence, but what miracle, what miracle but wrath and destruction, that’s the kind of miracle he is, the old kind. He doesn't realize he's buried his face in his hands till he hears the soft calling over the sound of so much noise.

He looks up to Tina, trembling, hand outstretched, eyes darting around him, at him, no, at the manifestation of all the dark sin inside of him, all the impurities leaking out, wrong and corrupt.

He starts at the arms that bracket him from behind, the chin on his shoulder.

The Obscurus becomes him again and he slumps into the nest of Mister Graves' arms. Tina transfigures a potted plant into a sofa and it smells like aloe when he's laid down on it but not in a terrible way. He touches the soft upholstery, amazed that it doesn't feel like a plant anymore at all. He's still crying, silent and empty.

"Congress convenes in an hour." Tina bites her lip, whispering over the stack of files.

"Go find your sister, I'll sort through these." Mister Graves says, and when Tina is gone Credence watches him take the whole box over to the sofa, watches Mister Graves turn and sit on the ground with his back up against the edge of it, shoulder a few inches apart from Credence's resting hand. "Just rest, Credence, we've got you." It is such a soft intonation, gruff still from gravel and depth, but gentle. "You're safe, you belong here."

He drifts maybe, not sleeping, no, but at some point the sound of pages turning lulls him into quieter thoughts and his hand falls open and he doesn't notice the start as it rests against a warm shoulder, only the way it continues to rest thereafter. When Queenie opens the door he opens his eyes to find his hand gripping tight to a pale lavender shirt sleeve and lets it go as if burned, the scarring on his hands glints in the light before he can curl his hand away from the imposition.

"Hey sweetie, oh you mussed your hair all up; you look like a sweet little puppy." Queenie drifts her hands around, and Ma would have chopped it down, made it manageable, but Queenie just sweeps it back away from his face and pins it there with a bobby pin. "Feeling a little better?"

He nods carefully, "I'm dangerous, aren't I?"

"No, just misunderstood." Mister Graves labors to stand, holding a folder in his hands, "I'll need to make a fire-call, and we’ve got fifteen minutes." He pauses, "If I'm not back yet, get him to Congress on time."

Queenie gives a chipper salute and Mister Graves shakes his head at her with a frown but leaves. "He's so demanding, isn't he sweetheart?" She smiles at Credence, "No, I know you don't much mind do you?"

"Can all wizards-"

"Read minds? No, some can; I was just born really good at it. It's okay, honey, I won't tell anyone anything up here," she gently presses her finger to his temple, "Or in here." Her hand over his heart is calming, and so is her smile.

"Let's get you all spiffed up then." She clasps her hands together in undeniable joy.

Queenie helps him back into his coat, or robe, fixes his tie for him and smiles. While they wait she spells a piece of paper into a folded up dove and it flies delicate circles around the room.

Tina comes in, avoids being swooped, "I found a-" She pauses, "Where is Mister Graves?"

"He said he had a fire-call to make, there's still five minutes." Queenie murmurs serenely, reaches out to pinch his cheek, and he feels a little like he needs to remind them he's not a child, that he's twenty one and they're probably not that much older than he is. "Aw, but I always wanted a little brother." She kisses his cheek suddenly and he freezes up. Her affection is given so freely, and he wonders what that would have really been like. Growing up around people like Queenie and Tina, growing up with real witches and not the nightmares Ma had taught him.

Tina paces, bites at her nails, but a minute before five minutes are up the door opens and Mister Graves enters, his face oddly flushed, an older woman with him, her hair white but bushy around her face and her clothing a mass of bright floral prints and sport pants. Mister Graves moves his hands in an introduction even as he's tugging on his robes quickly, "Auror Porpentina Goldstein and her sister Queenie Goldstein, Former Director of Magical Law Enforcement Lilian Frost."

"I was on the shuffleboard court and they call me in saying, 'Popsicle, you got a head floating in your fireplace,' can you believe that?" She smacks her leg, laughing, "Grim Graves shoved in my tiny Florida Fireplace being a nuisance, and-" she pauses, looking at Credence, and then turns a nod to Graves, "That's a Nyx yeah, I'll testify for you."

"This is Credence Barebone." Graves introduces.

Lilian Frost snorts a sharp sound, "For how long?"

"Former Director Frost." The Very Important woman greets, and there is a murmur through the crowd, Queenie has his wrist in a loose grasp, comforting, grounding. He doesn't think she's supposed to be in here today but no one seems willing to argue it now with the woman at Graves' side the center of attention.

"Sera, you're looking good! Can’t say the same for the aurors, what a scandal, not even able to find their own Director."

"Thank you for your opinion, Mrs. Frost."

Mister Graves clears his throat, "Before Congress convenes to determine a recourse concerning Credence Barebone, I would like to present evidence as to the legality of his placement as a wizard."

Mister Graves takes a measured breath and the energy of the room is so charged Credence can’t help but look at him, "As was suspected by the investigation formerly headed by Auror Goldstein before her actions warranted a temporary demotion, Mary Lou Barebone was taking orphaned children of wizarding descent into her congregation. As I am sure all here can remember from their first year history texts, this is the same Barebone family descended from Bartholomew Barebone."

"Another reason to cast him out!" A murmur follows the cry, Credence cringes, and Queenie slips her hand down to take his hand properly, palm to palm.

"Another Barebone threatening the statute of secrecy, it's in the blood!"

"Except Credence is not a Barebone, as I have just stated, Mary Lou was taking children, Credence was one of them."

"There is no way of knowing where he came from, and he was raised by their ideals." The president speaks gently at least, but also in an almost leading way, as if she knows something the others don't. But of course she does, she knows her right hand man. That seat is still empty and Credence is doubly sure that's where Mister Graves should be.

"In the summer of 1907 a rash of arson cases plagued the wizarding community; you were acting Director of Magical Law Enforcement and Security at this time, were you not, Mrs. Frost?" And Mister Graves seems to change, to take on even more control, even more vibrancy. He is the most charismatic thing Credence has ever borne witness to, and that included Ma's sermons, which could draw in a crowd and keep them pacified, keep them hanging on her words even as they thought them bunk.

"I was, Director Graves." Even in her floral print, with her hair a mess around her darkly tanned face, Mrs. Frost commanded the same level of respect as her replacement.

"Do you remember the night Artemisia Nyx died?"

A cresting wave of whispers, again, but none dared rise above the proceedings.

"I did, I worked the scene with two other Aurors. In the morning we had three more do interviews with the other tenement houses on the block."

"Artemisia Nyx was here without any other family, was she not?"

"Yeah, came over on the boat, no one back in Germany wrote back, heard word she was disowned by her father. Shame, as she was the last Nyx then; it was in the papers at the time too. A fortune in paintings went up with her."

"Did you know Ms. Nyx personally, Mrs. Frost?" Graves paces a little, coming to stand beneath the dais at the part where the president sat, turning to brace his hand against the foot of it, his coat, or robe as Credence struggled to call it, swept partially behind him to cut a more imposing figure. How anyone in the room could turn their eyes from him, Credence couldn't understand.

"I did, had her do touch up work for some of my family heirlooms. She did work as a renovation artist, in the blood that art was, kept to herself socially though."

"How is any of this relevant?" One of the sourer voices asks from in the dais stands.

Graves raises his hand, and it's such a powerful gesture, the room silences, he shakes his head, simultaneously dismissing and humiliating the person interrupting him. "Tell me, Former Director Frost; is your memory still as sharp as it was?"

"I should hope so, Director Graves."

"Can you recall, then, what Artemisia Nyx looked like?"

Credence watches the woman nod and then place her wand to her own temple, twisting in a slow clockwise fashion in the air. She drew forth from herself, or thin air, a glinting golden shimmer of smoke-like light. Finally, she cast it up to the ceiling, where the dead lay floating. The Obscurus -– Credence -– had left them behind, and there they lay, his guilt a river drifting above their heads.

Another of their kind joined them, but the image shimmering opaque and gentle was not of a woman already dead, just dead now. She had dark black hair swept back from her face, kind but somehow shrewd eyes, and shapely lips with a scar running through them. Credence had her bone structure, her dark eyes, and her pale skin.

The rising crest of voices would be overwhelming, but Credence is transfixed, can hear none of them. He's never seen his mother before, she's so very beautiful.

They have to break again because the arguments are too loud, someone apparently throws a shoe, and Queenie sits with him back in Graves' office as a decision is made on when to reconvene. Queenie is petting back his hair, his head on her shoulder, his own hands clasped together in his lap.

Tina is on the other side of him, hand over his own, the other picking at a stray leaf sticking out of the sofa arm. "We should have warned you. I'm sorry, Credence."

"Do you, Tina? Do you think Ma burned her?"

Queenie tightens her hold on him, just a little squeeze, "Let's not think about that, okay, Credence? How about I make us some cocoa while we wait, huh? That would be swell wouldn't it?"

"Miss Tina? Do you think Ma burned her?"

"I think Mary Lou Barebone was a dreadful person and regardless of whether she did it, the way she treated you and the other children should have resulted in our action to stop that abuse. That it didn't, that we allowed it to happen, puts as much of the blame on us as that woman, and, and, Credence," she takes up his hands now in both of her own and kneels in front of him, and he thinks she'll wrinkle up her pantsuit but then he's looking at her proper and feels bad for the tears in her eyes because he knows they're his fault, "None of this is your fault."

Queenie has made them all cocoa and Tina is sitting back on the sofa with him and working on paperwork when Mister Graves enters, looking as put together as when Credence had seen him last, helping the other aurors to silence the crowd of arguing voices.

"Tomorrow at two. How are you holding up Credence?"

Credence isn't sure how to answer truthfully, "I'm well, thank you for asking, Mister Graves."

"He needs to go home." Queenie says, collecting up the cocoa mugs. "You should take him home and get a nice meal in him, Mister Graves, and no more work talk for either of you."

Mister Graves smooths his hand over a watch chain hanging between his waistcoat pockets. Credence watches his fingers stroke, he feels like he's floating, like he's tired and hollowed out, it's nice to focus there, to contemplate the strength in the man's hands. He holds his wand with strength too, surety and control.

"And a nice hot bath." Queenie adds.

"I'm being ordered from my own office. I haven't gone on lighter duty yet; I wasn't aware you were given a promotion above me, either."

"Sir, please, for Credence's sake?" Tina implores and Credence feels guilt that he can be used against the man, that he has a place that makes him weak.

Queenie gives him a concerned look, but Mister Graves is already drawing forward, almost collecting his arm but not close enough, just hovering. Credence can count the times Mister Graves has touched him on one hand now. He can't even remember how many times He had touched him.

They walk in silence together and he doesn't want to break it for surely Mister Graves is thinking hard about important things. They go in silence together, too, down the elevator once more. They walk outside, almost touching still, but not quite. If Credence feigned clumsiness he could brush their arms together in the jostle of their walking, but he doesn't deserve it. Mister Graves is doing so much for him already, all of them are, and he has given them nothing but trouble in return. To take such a thing as warmth from him, for his own sinful ends, that would be too much to stand.

"Credence I'm not much of a cook, and it's clear by the way Queenie chastised me that you're not used to our richer meals; you'll have to help me find things suitable for you to eat ‘til you're more acclimated."

They are outside now, in the same place they had apparated into this morning, and Credence realizes just now that they are going back to Mister Graves apartment alone and all the justifications, all the self-hatred, sweeps away with the sudden excitement that Mister Graves will at least have to take his arm to magic him away. His heart beats fast, his mouth goes dry, that strong hand, curled around his arm, bracing him. Guilt floods in not soon after, as it always does.

Galatians 5:16. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. He's trying, he's trying, but it's so hard. "I'll try Mister Graves." He means in more ways than just with food. He'll be good, he can be good, and they all deserve him to try.

Chapter Text

Mister Graves doesn't take his arm; he instead presses into Credence's side, wraps his arm around him. It is a tight brace, careful and firm. "Steady breath now," Mister Graves directs him and then tugs him forward a step, and they come out before the grand apartment building again, "It gets easier with time." A comforting word and a warm hand strokes down his spine a few times as they walk forward, the heat memory burning through Credence like the fire of pain but nowhere near as lasting, regretfully.

"If we have the time tomorrow, I'll call a cab 'round to pick us up instead." The touching doesn't last long – Mister Graves pulls away as they enter the lobby and greet the doorman.

It is silent again, going up the elevator, but Credence doesn't feel nervous about it, he's still too focused on the heat, fading but still remembered. It's replaced by guilt when Graves takes his robe and hangs it up, the fine fabric looking most at home beside the dark black-blue of Mister Graves own robes. But he didn't belong here, he shouldn't, not in a place this good, with people as kind as Mister Graves had been to him.

In the kitchen he finds the books again, the files and papers they had been working off last night and this morning.

Mister Graves rolls up his sleeves and begins to pull what Credence recognizes as restaurant menus from a drawer by the sink. He glances over to see Credence again running his hand over the book. "One of your ancestors painted that." He inclines his head toward the book. "I heard you giving the indomitable Goldstein sisters a history lesson this morning."

"It's just, that it's in the Bible, is all, a lesson against lust. He let her inside his camp because of her beauty and his desire of her. From this we learn that if we keep our hearts pure and our thoughts only toward Him that we will be led the righteous path. To covet another man's wife is a sin, and her heart and marital covenant still belonged to her slain husband."

Mister Graves places the menus on the table and coughs, and it almost sounds nervous, but then he's braced over the table looking down at the book, at the woman, Judith and her Maidservant, together taking the life of Holofernes. "There is another one on this theme, I think." He turns the page, past more inserted plates, paintings and sketches, all of them beautiful. Credence has never been to an art museum, has never seen art save for the woodblocks they worked with and the advertisements Ma would beat him for if she caught him looking at.

It somehow feels safe to look at the paintings with Mister Graves, that it is okay, allowed.

He stops turning the pages and smooths down the crease in the center of the book. On the right hand side, upside down for Mister Graves, was another image of Judith and her Maidservant, this time with the head of the general in the basket from before. The women are almost intimately pressed together, Judith and the Maidservant looking out of the painting, but conspirators together still. Judith has one hand on the sword where it rests on her own shoulder, the other shadowed delicately gripping the shoulder of her maidservant.

Ma would have condemned it as much for the intimacy of the two women as for the way the picture of the painting is enchanted, Judith's breasts rising in her bodice with every breath, her fingers stroking the cloth of her maidservant's dress. Credence feels his cheeks grow warm.

"The painter was fairly renowned in wizarding circles at the time and there was quite a scandal, for she made duplicates of her paintings. These are actually the duplicates." Mister Graves explains, "The originals were no-maj works, not enchanted or charmed." Mister Graves considers the painting, and Credence wonders what he sees in it, if the women look as intimate in their complicit crime to him as they do to Credence, or if it's the sin in him, if it's his own lustful heart reading something wrong into something painted to be pure.

"Wizards wouldn't buy her works because they weren't given first pick, and a political scandal and backwards ideals forced her to move many times in the no-maj world. Adding up debts that chased her till the end of her life." Mister Graves smiles, "Your mother shares a name with her; Artemisia was a common name in the Nyx family to my understanding. How do you like the painting?" He looks up at Credence over the book, dark eyes steady, studying.

"I think that I am wrong inside, and it changes the way I see things." Credence whispers softly, it's gotten dim in the room, lanterns unlit and the day growing late. It's almost odd to him that witches use candlelight just like they did at the church when there were things like electric lights. He supposed that was too no-maj for witches. He breaks from Mister Graves' gaze only to have his chin caught in a strong grip.

It isn't unkind, no, but it is stern and dominating, pulls his gaze back up until it's locked on dark, now black eyes, the room too dim to make out the warmth of color they otherwise displayed. "What that woman told you is disgusting. You're not wrong inside, Credence, and what happened with the Obscurus wasn't your fault. It's a parasite feeding off of you, twisting and attacking to protect its host."

"No, Mister Graves, where it attacked, the people it hurt, those were all people I hated. I hated them so much, and I wanted them to hurt like I'd been hurt." He wants to run but he can't, the grip isn't hard, no, but it's a presence he could never have hoped to break from. "It's my fault Ma is dead, and it's my fault that the senator is dead; I hurt so many people."

The strength of that hand, the steadying grip, slips from his chin and around, a brush against his high collar. Credence is still unused to the more fashionable cut of clothing in comparison to his childish suit, and he fears for a moment that Mister Graves will take him by the back of the neck and he can't, the connotations, the connections are too strong, he is turning with nausea before the press even begins, but then it fails to land. Mister Graves skids his hand against the side of his neck, one curling careful touch before he braces Credence's shoulder.

Still he can't break from the older man's gaze, and with the nausea gone, he can only think that this is how Judith held her Maidservant. "Credence, I know killers; I am one. You were a tool, used and manipulated, but you're no killer."

"I wanted to be good for you, for," and he pauses "But it wasn't you." He can feel Mister Graves' hand tighten its grip on his shoulder, "And I wasn't good, and I'm not good, I corrupt all the nice things, I twist them up. I let Him twist me up and use me because I wanted so badly to be good for you."

"Credence," Mister Graves sounds wounded, voice deeper than Credence has ever heard it, and this is another way he's sinned.

He keeps going, can't help himself, "It's my fault, I was so blind to it all, and I hurt so many people. If I hadn't been so selfish, so desperate to please him, so drunk on it, Ma would be alive, I'd have been there to make sure Modesty hadn't brought that wand into the church. I wouldn't have been looking into her things trying to find what he wanted me to find." Credence feels the desperation again, the welling up inside of him, that noise and powerlessness, that fear and hurt, "What if He gave her that wand? What if it was Him, trying to manipulate her, and I would have sold my own sister to him, just to get what he promised, but he never meant to bring me with Him."

He knows the Obscurus is at his back, knows it now because it's the pain, the fear, the whip of a lash. Mister Graves leans over the kitchen table, over the open page of Judith and her Maidservant locked in that criminal embrace. Credence leans into his own embrace, cheek to cheek and Mister Graves' breath comes warm against his neck. "I'm so sorry, Credence, I'm so sorry. It's not your fault, let it go."

The Obscurus is him, and the room is quiet again, the sound of Mister Graves breathing, and his own soft sobs, "I just wanted to be kept, to belong, to be wanted."

"You belong here now, I want you here, Tina and Queenie want you here, it's all over."

"I killed them Mister Graves, I killed Ma, and Chastity, and that senator, I killed them." Credence moves his hands to his face, rubs at his eyes, wet and burning, as if he can rub them right out. His wrists are caught in a gentle but firm grip and his vision swims, spins, he can't, he doesn't know what to do, but Mister Graves keeps him grounded. "Modesty was so terrified of me. So terrified and now she doesn't remember any of it, she doesn't remember me, Mister Graves. I'm that wrong, that bad, I broke her. I broke everyone."

"Credence, look at me." He can't at first, despite the heavy steel of that voice, the command in it, but Mister Graves makes a gentling sound, like one would to a horse in the street or a stray cat, like Credence used to in the back alley before Ma beat him for trying to touch the vermin. "That's it, there's a good boy." Mister Graves smiles at him, such a thin thing, and the shadows on his face make him look like one of the paintings in the book between them. A study of light and dark, but all the dark is the room around them, and all the light is the curve of his very delicate smile, the soft sad warmth in his eyes.

It was something the doppelganger had always lacked, that gentle humor and wryness, but Credence wouldn't have known; it was easy to ignore the cold strength when he was being pacified with physicality. "I owe you my life." Mister Graves says, and Credence widens his eyes and shakes his head, because Mister Graves shouldn't remember that, he was so hurt, and Tina had never mentioned it. It hadn't come up in the hearing at Congress either. "You think they would have found me before the cursework finished me off? I was dying, Credence. You found me, you saved my life. Life did you wrong, we all did you wrong, but I will do my damnedest to make sure you are given all the chances you should have been given before."

"Missus Tina would have found you." Credence argues.

"Tina was in debriefing for half a day, if it hadn't been for you I would have died in that pit. You found me, and regardless of reason, you were the one to save me. You think I will see you as anything but good? What has been done to you, the thing twisted and feeding off the inside of you, it is terrible, but there is nothing wrong, nothing bad about you, Credence."

Credence's hands clutch at air between them, an involuntary motion, but Mister Graves takes it as a sign to let him go. "I didn't think you remembered me coming for you, sir." He wished he hadn't really, when he'd thought Mister Graves dead. The man had been so still, so ruined on the ground; he'd kissed his bloodied lips, just once. Humiliating when he'd felt his own name pressed against him.

In the scheme of unholy abominations, that kiss had been chaste, mourning, loss, anger.

Mister Graves flicks his wrist and the sconces all light up, it takes the intimacy from them, makes Credence's eyes water from the sudden shift. He wishes for a moment that the room had stayed dark, had grown dimmer until it was only streetlight illumination and the glint of reflection in Mister Graves' eyes. He feels safer in the darkness.

"I felt it better to keep it to myself. It doesn't matter though; Scamander didn't manage to sneak you out of the country after all."

"I'm selfish. I saved you because I'm selfish. I'm not good at all, Mister Graves."

"Credence, it's okay to want friends, it's not selfish."

But he doesn't want a friend in Mister Graves. He could cry his frustration, his soul unclean so much so that it taints even this one good thing. He'd been angry and raging, scared and alone; he'd found Mister Graves because he'd wanted, he'd not been sure anymore. And then he'd seen him broken, bones sticking out of flesh, an angel fallen, beautiful still, and whatever the Obscurus had wanted was overcome with what Credence wanted.

"I am selfish, and wrong, I am not a good person, Mister Graves." Credence remembers M ister Graves’ arms twisted and bound high above his head, chest bare and bruised, bloodied, the steel shafts of the rods sticking free from gored places in his shoulder, stomach, between his ribs. Credence remembers there was no struggle of breath in that dark place; that Mister Graves had been as still and silent as Ma and Chastity, lying dead on the Church house floor. Mister Graves had looked martyred in comparison to them, not forgotten like dolls, but splayed out on the dark floor, beautiful.

Credence feels nausea roll through him with his remembrance. How can he think such a thing, how can he think of the pain and torment he'd found Mister Graves in and think how beautiful he was suffering in it? What foul idolatry, and did it not make him as terrible as the man to inflict the pain to begin with?

Colossians 3:5. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. He tries, but his sins lay stained on his heart. How he could ever imagine outrunning them when pretending they're not there just turns the guilt tighter, makes the noose heavier?

"Credence," Mister Graves sighs softly, moves heavily to slide into the chair before him, "We'll work on that okay? It's time to eat now." A change in tack but Credence finds it hard to move that fast. It is only his desire to please that has him sitting down when Mister Graves flicks his hand and a chair pushes back from the table for him. "You're used to thin soups, right?"

His Saint, plucked through with arrows. He wants to be good for him. "Yes sir." He's trying, so hard.

They look at the menus together and Credence fights himself, practicality and a desire to do as Mister Graves requests warring with fear and the need to be as little of a burden as he can be. Not once during the proceedings does the man lose his temper, grow cross or impatient with him, and in time they settle on chicken soup and crusty bread from a restaurant called the Fancy Fowl, the same place dinner had come from the night before, according to Mister Graves.

He is left in the sitting room with his book while dinner is fetched. By the time Mister Graves is back, he's heavily engrossed, reading about the founding of the Hogwarts-inspired school Ilvermorny and its humble start as the cottage of Isolt and her no-maj husband James. He is called out to from another room, and, leaving his book behind, Credence discovers the dining room. He is so caught up in everything from the new world in his head and the new world in front of him that he runs right into Mister Graves, and stumbles awkwardly backwards.

He apologizes and sidesteps, noting with wide eyes the beautiful room, how odd that so much could fit into an apartment; it could have fit all of the orphans and then some, a long beautiful wooden table of a kind of darkness that reminded Credence of Mister Graves' wand. A table runner is set, candelabra, and the paintings on the walls ignore them, save for one where a young girl with her hair up in pigtails sits, chubby cheeks on curled hands, watching them attentively with a mysterious smile.

Credence breaks his eyes from her gaze and twists his hands before him, waiting to be told where to sit.

"I didn't have the energy to clean up the kitchen and you're a dear guest so forgive an old man the vanity of showing off."

"You are not vain, Mister Graves, the room is very beautiful."

"I was hoping you'd say I wasn't old." A wry laugh and Credence tries to apologize but he's being shown into a chair, physically rather than magically this time.

Credence struggles with his fractured attention, half of him in the book still, the other half watching from half-glances the way Mister Graves brings the spoon to his lips, the movements formed around it.

He has only managed a quarter of the bowl when Mister Graves puts down his napkin and leans back in his chair. He taps his wand against the glass of water he'd been sipping from and Credence watches as the liquid swirls red, his eyes widening, a biblical miracle, a sin. But his eyes shift up to the strong grip on crystal stem, the work of Mister Graves' throat as he takes a sip, and he can't call this man unholy; it's Credence who is the sinner here.

"What chapter are you up to, Credence? Can you recall the header?"

"Chapter three, sir, The Foundation of Modern Education."

"How are you handling the terminology? I can order you a supplementary manual from the store; I've none in my personal library."

"I think I-I'm managing sir, it's written very simply."

Mister Graves swirls his wine, takes a sip, and his lips come away reddened from it. Credence licks his own, feeling a hollow pit in his stomach that has little to do with his quickly chilling soup. "It's written with an eleven year old in mind, so I'm not surprised, but you don't have to struggle if I can remedy it. We have books for children who come from no-maj parents. I can answer most questions, but it would be best if you began to cross-reference on your own."

"There are witches like that?" Credence asks in wonder, "And wizards." He adds hastily, still trying to banish Ma's prejudices.

"Yes, and some are born without magic."

"Squibs."

Mister Graves nods a tight look on his face but after he takes another sip of his wine it's gone, smoothed out into the careful neutral expression he's been wearing since they began to eat. "Credence, when you get to the chapter with Rappaport in the header, wait before reading it; I want to discuss it with you first."

"It's because of the Barebones, isn't it Mister Graves? What they were talking about in the room today, it's to do with that, isn't it?"

Mister Graves' eyes meet his, a flick of his lips into the twitchy beginnings of a smile, "You're a terribly clever boy." Credence feels shame and pride tangle together, his skin prickles hot. He could listen to Mister Graves compliment him forever, and he hates himself for the pride of it.

"Finish up your dinner, Queenie will chastise me if I do not make sure you've been well tended to." Mister Graves pauses right after and looks at Credence in a searching way, "None of this is a trial for me, Credence. I realize now some of my words might be misinterpreted. You are not a burden to me; I just dislike being told what to do."

Credence flushes, nods softly. He knows he should believe Mister Graves because the man has not lied to him yet, but it's too easy to consider the kindness is just because the man is that good, and Credence a sinful man to take advantage. Just as Ma had said, Credence was a vile thing, and vile things corrupt the purest of intentions.

"I am sorry that I am the cause."

Mister Graves puts down his wine glass, now empty, and sighs, "Again, not precisely what I meant. They worry about you, and you are worth worrying over. I just resent the implication I am not responsible enough to see to your best interests, or my own." Mister Graves considers the glass, he seems to be contemplating refilling it, his finger draws around the rim before he pushes it away, "That I cannot care for myself, or make decisions for myself, that I am not in my right mind."

"Because of Him."

"Because of Gellert Grindelwald, yes." The name spoken with such hatred from Mister Graves' reddened lips makes Credence's pulse come fast. "Do you trust me with your care, Credence?" Mister Graves looks up at him, neutrality but something needful under it.

"Yes sir," Credence says, finding his own voice comes breathless, his chest hollowed out, "I feel, I feel safe with you."

"Good," Mister Graves says, his voice soft and gritty like dirt, like gravel. Credence wants to kneel in it, to pray for forgiveness for his sins against this man, "Good, then eat your soup, and don't think again that you're unwanted here. If I didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here, my boy."

Mister Graves taps his wand in a line along the table, and his dirty dishes vanish. While he is pushing back to stand and leave Credence to finish his meal, Credence's own curiosity gets the better of him, "Missus Tina and Mister Scamander use words a lot with their magic, but you don't, sir?"

That man, He had not used words often either, "Scourgifying and vanishing some dishes into the cupboards gets done so often you start being able to do it mindlessly, and the more second nature a spell is, the easier it is to spin it off the wand, or without a wand at all." Mister Graves smooths down his waistcoat in an almost self-conscious manner. "For me much of that runs down to the household specialties of a bachelor outside of work. Combative and Defensive magic when it comes to work, as well as a collection of supplementary spells, healing, obliviation, legilimency, occulmency. I'm renowned for using muggle electricity in my combat repertoire; many think it distasteful, and I've heard from others I'm a blood traitor for even considering it."

Credence feels his stomach turn over, he doesn't know what much of the spells Mister Graves spoke of meant, but he could perfectly recall Mister Scamander being shocked over and over again by the charged rail in the subway, the scent of electricity like spilled blood. "I, I think I would like that supplementary book please, Mister Graves, if it's not too much?"

Mister Graves smiles at him from the door, "Of course, Credence, I'll have it ordered first thing tomorrow morning. Finish up now, I'll come fetch you when the bath is filled."

Credence manages to stomach the rest of the soup and half of his bread before Mister Graves returns, and yet his stomach feels empty when he looks up at the beckoning voice to see Mister Graves in his shirt sleeves, waistcoat removed, a single lock of hair fallen victim from the careful slicked styling to trail into his eyes, water glistening on his bare arms. Credence's breath comes strange and his skin turns clammy. The dishes vanish from between them and from behind Credence he can hear the softest giggle.

"The tub has a heat-stick charm on it, but you probably shouldn't tempt it, it's older than I am." Mister Graves explains, and Credence gets the hint that he should hurry up.

The bathroom he'd seen once already, shown to this morning, but it is different in the dimmer light, all gleaming porcelain and fancy tile, gold fixtures and a steamed up mirror. There is a chair in the corner with nightclothes folded up on it, far nicer than his night shirt at the church, green striped pajamas and little house slippers, a deep brown dressing robe hanging over the back of the chair.

"You can put your clothing from today on the chair and I'll put them into the laundry." Mister Graves tells him from the hallway, and his head spins; they really meant him to wear different clothing each day.

The door clicks closed with a soft sound and then there is a thud against it, but Credence doesn't ponder that overly long. He’s mindful of what Mister Graves had told him about the water even though he doubted it would matter much either way: he had not bathed in hot water since that singular time in the fall of 1918, when the sickness had taken a number of the children from them and he'd been made to bury them in the churchyard.

Death had permeated him then, sank into him until he'd felt the fever in his bones for days, weeks. He wonders now if that was the illness, if because he's a witch like Ma always said – ‘wizard,’ his mind helpfully supplies – if the Devil's plagues did not affect him as strongly. If whatever dark thing lived inside of him borne from his own impure heart had protected him from it.

He folds his clothing carefully, in awe as his hands track over the fine fabrics, the beauty that Queenie had picked out for him. There is no belt to undo, no belt for his hands to shake over, just some smart clasps and a pair of suspenders. He wonders if she took that from his thoughts too, or if Tina had told her how they'd met.

The water had scalded him back then, and he'd tried to crawl out of the tub. Ma had smacked him sharply across the face, and stunned he'd sat in the water, Death scrubbed from him. She had been too weak herself to lash him for weeks and if so many had not perished he would have been glad of it.

The water here is not scalding; it turns his skin a little pink when he steps into it, but it's altogether decadent. He's unholy, so he sinks into the water, and it shimmers with some sort of glistening oil. He puts his knees up to his chest and sits there, allowing idleness just for a little bit. It feels so good, so heavenly, and everything Mister Graves had given him has been like this, too good, a dream.

He used to have dreams like this before Ma adopted him, fancies put into his head by tales of rich benefactors adopting poor orphans. Except that never happened outside of stories, and Ma had set right his fancies. Children who weren't taken out by good God-Fearing people wound up in the workhouses until illness or the drink took them. Or they ended up on the streets selling their bodies for coin, or if they were abominations like him they ended up witches.

Credence lets his hands fall away from his knees, lets his back curve into the cool porcelain of the tub, lets his legs stretch out as far as they are able. He allows the heat from the water to work into his cold bones; he had ended up a witch, and he laughs a single soft broken sound. How about that, then? She'd been right about him all along.

There is a cloth for scrubbing and more soap, and he notes that it's not the same smell Mister Graves has, and also that it's new, and he makes a guess, a consideration that Queenie had purchased it along with the clothing. The scent isn't as strong, and it's light on his skin. He hears the floorboards creak in the hallway and then movement elsewhere; he catalogs the bruises still remaining on his skin. They'd examined him before they'd put him in the prison, but Credence hadn't done so himself until now.

There is one bruise, thick and circled around his lower arm. He can't stop looking at it, he remembers who gave it to him, and his body shakes as he crawls out of the water. The towel feels too soft on his skin, and the clothing feels too soft too, the house slippers are too plush compared to his boots, and he trips out into the hall, one hand curled around that dark mark where it lays under pajamas and house robe. "Mister Graves?" He doesn't realize he's crying until then, voice distressed and pitched almost to a whine.

There is a sharp sound like furniture grinding against the floor from down the hall and Mister Graves has to catch himself on the doorframe to keep from hitting the wall. Credence feels terribly for the alarm on his face, "What's happened?"

"Please, sir, please can," Credence struggles, he just has to breathe, in and out, to speak, to ask, it's hard to ask to form the words to be a burden but Mister Graves had asked him to trust, "Can you heal me, can you heal bruises?"

Mister Graves' attention flicks down to where Credence is clutching his own arm, "Let me see what I can do. In the bathroom, my medicine cabinet might have something better than a spell." He doesn't wait for Credence to move, sweeps over with his hand to the small of Credence's back, broad palm warm through the layers Credence wore, to guide him back down the hallway.

"I'm sorry." Credence whispers, but Mister Graves just rubs his thumb in a circle, soothing.

He knows he'll have to reveal the bruise, but standing in the warm bathroom with the tub still filled from his haste to escape his own memories makes him feel embarrassed for his flight. He pushes up the loose sleeves, holding his arm out over the sink between them.

"I was afraid it might have been a remnant from when my Aurors attacked you." Mister Graves' voice sounds pinched and Credence feels guilty, fearful. A simple bruise and he's this upset about it; Ma had given him worse for years. He'd grown so soft, took too much. He'd alarmed the man who had brought him into his home and was offering to guide him into this world, silly, stupid. Mister Graves moves his arm about, getting a look at the bruise and Credence freezes when Mister Graves himself freezes.

Slowly the older man slips his fingers over indentations, his palm over the olive green mottled with purple weight of the largest impression. Feather light is the touch, the impressions of broken blood vessels and inflammation fit perfectly, as if the wound was made for that hand. Still there after so much time had passed, perfectly shaped like an impression waiting for its master, perfectly matched.

As if the wound had been made by it.

Mister Graves draws away methodically slow and pushes open the mirror above the sink, the medicine cabinet, Credence can see. There is a straight razor, cologne, soap, hair cream, and men's things on the top shelf. All four remaining shelves are stocked with the brightest arrangement of little glass bottles, small tins, even a mortar and pestle.

"I'm better versed in battle damage, knitting back together skin, more for emergencies or to keep a body in the trenches on their feet." Mister Graves scrubs his hand over his face, peering in at the arranged bottles. "It's just a bruise, simpler to treat. It's just a bruise." Mister Graves turns a bottle around, then another.

"Mister Graves?" Credence's voice is so soft, he's still crying, can feel the tears falling down his face hot and shameful. Ma would have beaten him for that too.

"Just a bruise." Mister Graves' jaw goes hard and he turns, curls his hand around the marks, soft and gentle, there is force there but it's warm, warmer than the bath water and twice as comforting. Magic, Credence's foggy head supplies helpfully, and it felt just as good as it had when He had held Credence's pain in his hands and rubbed the broken flesh clean of Ma's punishments. "How many times did he hurt you?" Mister Graves demands, not sharp or desperate, but neutral and compassionate.

"He grasped my arm to take me with the magic to the place where Modesty went after, after I," Credence pushes himself past the pain. Hunched in on himself, they are closer of height, but Mister Graves feels so much more than he does, he always has. It’s just that now that more is warmth and comfort, not cold but soft concern, a quiet night with wind whispering through the trees and the blankets just warm enough, just enough, "I called him to me with the necklace he gave me, that they took when they had me undress in the white room. He hit me then, I was, I was begging him to help me, he hit me across the face."

Mister Graves raises both hands to his face, strokes warmth into the tucked edges of his jawline, into his sharp cheekbones. A hand rests against his temple and then the warmth is gone.

"It hurts worse inside." Credence's own hands turned against his chest, "I wanted to be good, I wanted a friend."

"I'm your friend Credence, Tina and Queenie, and Newt Scamander they are all your friends." Mister Graves keeps a hand against his temple, fingers swept back to card through his hair, pulls him into an embrace with the other. It is not rough, it is not strange and halting, it is not careful and proportionate. It is hot skin, his hands trapped between them, awkward angles until he closes in on himself more and pushes into it, allows strong arms to wrap him up, almost take him off his feet. "You're the greatest good I've ever seen, sweet boy; we'll work on the rest."

Credence doesn't know what he means, he's so tired and this embrace is what he's wanted for so long: not stolen, given begrudgingly in an alley, not a manipulation.

Credence hasn't been held like this, firm and real, for as long as he can remember, and when Mister Graves moves back only to sweep his arms under Credence and lift him up Credence cannot recall ever being carried in his whole life. "Please no, I can walk, you were hurt."

"And Healer Monroe took care of that, let me do this."

"I don't, I'm a burden-" Credence starts, but Mister Graves makes a sound like gravel in his throat; he submits to the humiliation of weakness, of being nothing more but dead weight in caring arms.

Credence is laid down into a bed, not the sofa in the sitting room. The pillow under his head smells like the bright spice of Mister Graves' cologne, the bed covers are soft where his hands grasp for purchase. For half a moment Mister Graves is braced above him, one arm beneath Credence's back, the thick mass of his torso bent over Credence sharply contrasting exacting strength with hollow undernourishment. "Trust me to take care of you." Mister Graves brushes a kiss to his temple. Credence's breath hitches, his knuckles white where he's gripped the blankets.

Mister Graves notices that and moves his arm from under Credence, moves to gentle his hands free of the covers, soothes him down, hands with weighty purchase stroking his arms, from shoulder to knuckles, "I will never mean to hurt you, and if I do, please, Credence, tell me."

He doesn't know how to explain this, how to explain the pain curling up in his chest, because he knows Mister Graves means physical, means broken trust, he means good pure intentions, but the pain in Credence that threatens to break him in half isn't pure at all. He wants Mister Graves to brace over him again, wants to feel the weight of him, to be covered up by it, devoured. He's so empty inside, so filled with want.

Lying is a sin too, but far worse is this. Jeremiah 17:9. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "Yes Mister Graves, I will."

Mister Graves moves to kneel at the side of the bed rather than brace above it, his chest against the top of the mattress. And when Credence turns just a little to lay on his side and face him, Mister Graves collects his hands, long and spindly and scarred with the wholesome work Ma had given him and beaten into him, within his own warm scarred hands. His breathing is shallow sick as he watches transfixed as Mister Graves' lips brush against his knuckles. "I haven't been a good guardian to you, Credence. I realize I've been neglecting you; I'm not a very spiritual man, not very religious, I'm afraid."

Credence shakes his head. Ma wouldn't agree with him, but he thinks Mister Graves can be good without going to church. He has been nothing but good to Credence. "You've been so kind."

"I must confess I don't think I've been to church since my father passed, and certainly haven't prayed in longer. You'll have to lead me through that."

Credence looks panicked at the very concept, and Mister Graves glances up to catch the hitching of his breath, his wide eyes, "I've seen you take blessing on your own before our meals. It's alright, my boy, you can give us a prayer."

Credence curls toward him further, till his head is almost resting against their shared hands, till he can scent the wine on Mister Graves' breath.

"Oh lover of Your servants, Giver of all Peace, another day has ended and here we take our place beneath You. You see in us our sins and help us to cleanse them daily with the great redeemer's blood, until our souls are laid clean so that we might join You soon."

"W-we thank you," Credence shudders over the words, Mister Graves whispering against his skin, not the Puritan prayers of his Ma but something softer, no less holy. He recognizes it as Latin; Mister Graves must have been Catholic, and his Ma would have hated that, "We thank you for the temporary blessings of this life, the wind in the trees, warm water against us, food provided on our tables, and sleep to prepare us for the day. You protect us, Your spirit our shield, Your love our strength, Your righteous anger our Fight. Bless us Lord, we belong to you, make us worthy."

And because Credence has spoken and considered and understands all that of which he has himself said, and wants to completely and honestly to be faithful to it, he murmurs a soft "Amen." And when Mister Graves, whose lips are still against his skin, repeats him, Credence feels the sin curl in the pit of his stomach, in the dark hollow of his pelvis, but it's too late to take it back.

"Be good and sleep, my boy." Mister Graves flicks his hand, and the lights go out, and the door clicks shut behind him, and then Credence can push his hands painful hard against the dark tremble between his thighs and bite his lip and pray, and pray, please let it go away, he wants to be good.

It is the heat of Mister Graves' palms against him, the scent of wine, the feeling of being lifted like he weighed no more than a sack of laundry in strong arms, the broad girth of a man, and that's sinful too, not that he'd considered laying with a woman but Ma had beaten him for both, Leviticus 18:22. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Credence had never considered seriously the possibility of laying down in sin with anyone, but he'd appreciated Mister Graves' strength and skill, he had admired his self-composure and style, the subdued honesty of his expressions, he had wanted to be good for him. Under His hand Credence had allowed his sinful nature to corrupt a relationship that had been pure, but even then his lustful yearnings had been fractured by cruelty and manipulations. The promises of power hadn't corrupted Credence; it was the promise of belonging, of being wanted and having a place that had done it.

He didn't think it was possible now either, that he'd be wanted the way he wanted, but now there is more than formless yearning, than the sharp guilt. He has no child to find, no task to complete, Ma is dead; there is nothing keeping him from the consideration of how good it would feel to have Mister Graves press over him, warm heat and heavy weight pressing him into the bed, and to this Credence pushes his own hand harder to the painful shame between his parted legs, raises his other hand to muffle the terrible sound that shudders out of his hollow yearning chest.

His hips jerk, unbidden, once, twice. He tastes blood; he's bitten through skin muffling himself.

It's more than the lust, it's more than the want. He'd felt so special, and that's the sin of pride again. He'd been good for that short amount of time, time that felt so desperate to him , but it had all been a lie. Mister Graves isn't a lie, he's good and just. He's trying to take care of Credence, and how does he repay the man but let his dark heart and wretched body covet him.

He draws his hands away, breath shallow. He remembers the man loosening his grip on the blankets, so he soothes his hands over them, rolls onto his back with legs pressed apart. The pain and heat remains, so he prays, he prays for it to go away, to stop wanting, to stop this painful hope inside that feels as much like a monster as the other thing inside of him made of twisted Magic and self-hatred.

He doesn't stop praying; exhaustion takes him first.

Chapter Text

He wakes at the first stretches of dawn and knows by the sounds outside in the hall of running water that Mister Graves must be awake too. When he sits up, the lamp on his bedside table flares to life and Credence starts sharply, but a guilty glance around shows that it must just be enchanted to light itself upon his rousing.

On a chair has been laid what he knows must be his clothing for today. He can't imagine putting on such clean things without washing up first, so he moves out cautiously into the hallway. His steps are silent, but when he comes to stand in the open door to the bathroom Mister Graves greets him with a nod.

Credence wonders how much prayer would be enough for this, if there would ever be enough to cleanse him. Throat bared, head back, in his undershirt with suspenders down, Mister Graves is shaving with the straight razor, nothing magical about it save for how enchanted Credence feels, enthralled. "How are you feeling this morning, Credence?"

"Well, Mister Graves. How are you?"

There is a scrape of blade, a flick of the wrist with the same composure and control of a wand, "Restless. Give me a moment here and I'll be out of your way; if you're amiable to an early start you can run along and get dressed right after. We can take breakfast outside." Another pull of the razor, Credence's hands ball into his sleeves.

"Yes sir."

"I'm out of things one eats for breakfast anyway." Mister Graves laughs to himself, it is a deprecating sound. "You'll make a better man of me if only by forcing me to keep milk in the house." Mister Graves finishes his shaving and turns a searching look to Credence, dark eyes running over his face, "No, I don't suppose you're old enough to need this."

Credence flushes, "I'm twenty one." It feels joyous to actually say it, "I just um, it doesn't grow well."

Mister Graves' lips quirk, fractures of a smile in a broken mirror. The doppelganger had never smiled at him like Mister Graves does, "That's fine, Credence, I didn't mean to imply you were a child. Do I make you feel like a child?"

No, heavens above and hell below take his soul, "No Mister Graves, not at all."

"Good." And it's heat when Mister Graves passes him, "Hurry on then, meet me in the kitchen when you've finished dressing."

The books in the kitchen have been mostly tidied now, stacks of files and notebooks, and the book with the paintings in it has been closed. Mister Graves is waving his wand above the items, and before Credence's eyes they each shrink to a third their size before being tucked into a suitcase awaiting them. Mister Graves throws his gaze over to him and Credence pats at his vest, the fine embroidery work around the pockets, smoothing it down with trembling hands. Their movement is tracked by Mister Graves and he pauses in his work.

"Your hand." Mister Graves steps to him till Credence is taller and has to hunch to once more accommodate the power between them. Credence looks down, remembering his shame. The indentation of his own teeth is stark against his skin and Mister Graves takes his hands within his own, signet ring glinting in morning light, "You bit yourself? Nightmares?"

"I, yes, but-" Because of course he had nightmares, but lying is wrong, "I'm okay Mister Graves."

It is where wine-stained lips had touched his skin, they'd shared a kiss through it, and in Credence it had turned violent.

Mister Graves strokes once, twice, the mark is gone, healed. Credence feels no remorse over this; he has instead the warmth of Mister Graves' magic upon him. "Go put your robes on Credence , and bring me mine."

There is a sharp snap of chill in the air when they step out of the apartment building, and Credence marvels as he sees other witches and wizards coming down too, "Is this whole building for people like you?" Credence asks, going easily where he's turned, again with the hand at his back to guide him delicately.

"Like us, and yes, there are several apartment buildings like it in the city, and a few like MACUSA, where we share the building in parts with no-maj tenants. Where there is money there will always be found goblins to hoard it. Likewise with titles and deeds, but they work the intricacies of real estate with a care to detail that certainly makes investigating things easier. Got us in on the ground floor when the Woolworth building was in construction, we did the rest from there."

Magical Congress of the United States of America, Credence knows from the room with all the shouting voices. It is emblazoned there on the dark stone floor, near the warding he was made to stand in. "Is the elevator man a goblin?"

"That's Red, and he is indeed." Mister Graves leads them across a wide street, heedless of the cars, and Credence notes the wealth of the buildings. He pinpoints that they're far north; he knows he's right when they start hitting shops. "You're not cold, are you? I don't believe Miss Goldstein bought you a scarf."

"I'm fine, Mister Graves, I've been out in worse." He means weather, but also clothing he supposes. The lining of the robe while silk is oddly warm too. He thinks it's probably magic.

To his horror, Mister Graves takes the dark blue scarf from around his own neck and draws it to tuck around Credence. It's meant maybe more for style, or it had been on Mister Graves, accentuating the lines of his suit, the cut of his robes. Mister Graves knots it as his throat loosely, careful and attentive. "That's better, isn't it, my boy ?"

Credence nods, mouth dry, steps faltering until Mister Graves' hand is there to guide him again.

He catches himself pressing his face down into it. Dirty and tainted he is, and he doesn't want to rub over the purity of skin contact, cool silk warming with his breath, but he can't help himself. Aftershave, the spice of cologne, his pulse beats so fast. Mister Graves catches him with his face down and smiles a soft look; Credence feels guilty that Mister Graves thinks it's because he's cold, as if he could feel it with that hand on him like the love of the Lord, warming him from the inside out.

Blasphemy, oh; he'll worry about it later .

Mister Graves shows him into a small store of the kind of elegance and wealth he never would have been permitted to visit before. Ma didn't even go into such nice places to hand out pamphlets, but further she wouldn't have gone here because the bookshop had on display queer titles and texts. A chirping bird above the door sings out when the door slips shut behind them, certainly not a common sight in most stores.

They pass a display of books with a cat moving along the paper stand and an arrangement of fluttering memo books shoved into a cage before Credence breaks, "How do you keep non-magical persons from coming in?"

Mister Graves stops them midway through the shop and gently turns them back to face the front door where Credence can see people walking past outside, ignorant of the wonder inside. "Disillusionment charms. It's how I knew you were special; you saw right through mine. They keep people from noticing what you don't want them to, but more so they keep no-maj from getting too curious and wandering into a place that could be harmful for them."

A wry smile to the words, "You think to yourself, ‘Did I leave that kettle on?’ or, ‘Did I turn the key?’ or, ‘I surely forgot that piece of paperwork back at the office,’ and then the work wizards are doing on the other side remains uninterrupted."

"I wasn't expecting to be putting up defenses against a wizard when I went around to check in on Goldstein's request. A weak disillusionment should have had me appearing as nothing more than part of the masonry across from the sermon, and yet there you were, sizing me up from across the street. Knew you were a wizard from that, but, well, legalities."

Credence wonders if things had been different if Mister Graves would have brought him out of there then. Did it matter, even? Did he deserve it, and now what had changed to honor him with the privilege? He'd saved Mister Graves' life, according to the man. Maybe that was why it was different now.

"I think you'll need a quill set and a notebook to take notes in, too." Mister Graves draws his attention back from the door and out of himself, turning him toward a section of stationary. "Go pick out something you'd think I would use. I suspect if I ask you to shop for yourself we'd end up in the second hand store." Mister Graves gives him a tap to the back to propel him, and then he is left to his own devices, the older man striding with purpose to the attendant at the register in the back of the store.

"Well, if it isn't Director Graves," Credence can hear a man's voice, joyful, teasing, but in a way that isn't meant to be cruel. He couldn't imagine anyone trying outright cruelty with a man as in control as Mister Graves, except well, Him, "You've been in the paper lately, The Ghost had a whole expose about you, accused you of bein' a dark wizard and I said to meself, they wouldn't say that if they saw his reading materials. You've never bought even one book as such, and while I don't keep a selection I hear from King every Friday."

"Your faith in me is admirable, Jack; I'm here to get a few books, terminology supplements for young wizards from no-maj households, and a few art texts if you've stocked them."

"I didn't know you had a son."

A pause from Mister Graves and Credence feels his face grow hot, helped little by his burying it in the scarf, "He's my ward."

Credence can hear them walk away, the wooden floor and scattered carpets soaking up much of the sound, but there is no hiding the click-tap-click of Mister Graves' metal tipped brogues.

At the church they'd used rough charcoal, chalk, or donated pencils for lessons, but Credence understands the concept of a fountain pen as Ma had one for finer lettering, papers asking for donations or adoption paperwork.

He doesn't know how to use a quill pen, but he'll be careful and he'll learn. He recalls the feathers he's seen in Mister Graves' office and in a jar on one of the counters in the kitchen; long, stiff-looking black feathers with a silver inset along the shaft. There are many similar styles of quill before him on display in lined paper boxes. He notes that they come in sets or singles, and further packaged too with stationary and ink. The display carries around the end of one aisle and he follows it round, startled to see another attendant and the widest variety of pigments he could imagine .

The attendant, a girl who must be around his age, jumps at his sudden appearance around the corner and flings her hands up, the box of ink bottles she's holding dropped from her grip. Credence lurches inward, grabs it with only a slight jostle, and together they seem to look, frozen in terror, to see if they've been overheard.

When nothing but the soft nondescript murmur of voices continues, she takes the box back with trembling hands. "Whatcher doin' sneaking up like a hidebehind?"

Credence knows what a hidebehind is, Isolt Sayre encountered one twice, and he thinks with some measure of self-disgust the description is apt. What else is he but a nocturnal specter that hides behind any given object, the killer of parents, a monster? "I apologize." He hunches in on himself.

The girl looks guilty then, cringing so that her bright red hair bounces around her face. "Oh don't get like that, that's why mam says I'll never catch me a husband. Come on then, give us a smile, whatcher lookin' for? I'll help you out, you came in with Gravelly Graves dinnae ye?"

"I'm supposed to find a quill to use."

"Okay lemme see your hand." She demands and it's second nature to present it to the command in her tone. "Long, elegant, but unsteady. Best not go too long then." She pushes him back around the corner to the proper display of quills with the edge of her box. "Longer the quill the more old fashioned it be, but you get a wiggle toward the corner of a page."

"Yes, I always had trouble with the edges of my slateboard."

She giggles and takes a look up at him, curious, "You from one of them European schools?"

He flounders. He's not been left on his own to speak to someone who doesn't know who he is yet. It feels a little disorienting, but also somehow terribly freeing, "I wasn't raised up as a wizard." He manages to use the right pronoun at least.

Her eyes widen, darting to the back of the store and then back to Credence, "But yer a wizard, ain't ye?"

Credence nods, enough people have told him as such, so it must be true.

She props the box of inks on one hip to take on the display of quills, handing a few to Credence to look at. "Metal is practical and less expensive, but it rusts in a few years and you'll sometimes find ink weevils in yer notch. For feathers you get a range from owl, hawk, all the way to eagle, but those are in the uppermost range. Bone is the most expensive but has the longest staying power; our supplier uses Lake Monster bones from Lake Champlain. The feathers to go with bone are always the highest quality eagle feathers."

He doesn't know what to do with the boxes she hands him, so he looks at them, trying to match them up with the quills he remembers in Mister Graves' possession. The metal he's sure, but none of them have the tell-tale black feathers.

"I can tell you got questions."

He turns his attention back to the display. The only feather close enough is one without a utilitarian point at all, just a simple quill feather with the shaft sharpened to a rudimentary point. "What is that feather?" It is black, a little tuft at white toward the very bottom.

She wrinkles her nose up, "Vulture."

"Magrathea, what are you bothering Mister Graves' ward for, get back to work!" The attendant has returned, and Credence looks to them to see Mister Graves with a small stack of books and an amused look warring with neutrality.

"I was helpin' a customer with selections." She says smartly.

"Lofty ideals for a stock girl. Get back to the shelves!" The attendant bustles forward and Magrathea vanishes back around the aisle corner, leaving him with his collection of boxes and nothing else but desperation. "Let me see, no those are all wrong for you, you need bone, such a fine young man as yourself." He's still holding the singular vulture feather when Mister Graves joins them; stack of books tucked under one arm.

"I see you took that much too literally, I didn't mean exactly alike." Mister Graves waylays the attendant, "Go with metal, if you would."

"Dove? No," The attendant says chipper as can be and Credence figures he's getting enough commission off the books under Mister Graves' arm to make the sale of a lesser quill agreeable, "Eagle is a classic, do any of these colors appeal to you?"

Credence casts his gaze to Mister Graves desperately.

"What about peacock? Cardinal? Mallard?"

Credence buries his face in the scarf, watches the look of neutral almost amusement twitch, bemusement clear now, the lines around Mister Graves' eyes crinkling up. "Magrathea what's your suggestion?" Mister Graves doesn't break his gaze and it takes all of Credence just to keep it.

"Harpy eagle." Magrathea bustles from around the corner, instantly plucks a box from the display and hands it to Credence. "It suits him." The feather is stiff with stripes of interlocking white and black, it's beautiful.

A small notebook and a roll of parchment are added to the items, followed by a self-sealing ink well for travel use. "We'll pick you up a bag somewhere." Mister Graves spells the books and other purchases down and tucks them into his suitcase. His hand moves to Credence's back and as they leave Credence waves shyly in farewell to Magrathea, who waves back with a big grin. He wonders if he was her first ever sale. It makes him feel warm, regardless of the fact that it wasn't his money he was spending.

"If I'm hungry, I can only imagine you must be starved. What did you tend to eat for breakfast at the Second Salemers?"

"Porridge or vegetable hash sometimes, bread. Usually I went without; Ma said the hunger would strengthen my resolve."

Credence can feel the hand grip at the fine fabric of his robes before soothing out, returning to guidance and composure. "We'll try some toast with jam on it, corn fritters, and finnan haddie. I know you ate like an ascetic, but if we don't begin to get you acclimated to heavier meals you will drop as soon as we get to beginning charm work."

"Does magic eat food?" Credence wonders aloud, flushing when Mister Graves makes a soft sound of amusement.

"Close enough. You eat food, and doing magic takes energy. It has to come from somewhere."

It's a small diner and Credence is in wonder. He knows this is a no-maj establishment and until now he could not have imagined Mister Graves regularly frequenting any such place. Especially of the working class variety, yet the proof was in the turned over cup and the black coffee tipped into it. "Oh, you're bringing in a new coworker?" The waitress compounded the evidence, a hand on her hip in a pose of familiarity.

"This is Mollie, Credence." Graves dispatches with the introductions and takes a sip of his coffee.

"Pierce I haven't seen you in months, Kipper thought you'd died but I figured you was tied up in the markets."

Credence feels an illicit thrill run up his spine; the name wasn't the same as the first name he knew Mister Graves to use. Visions of codes and spies ran through his head before the excitement was dampened somewhat by his remembrance that he had been in such a world of codes and fake identities and it hadn't been fun at all.

"Mollie, is Goldie working?"

The waitress flounced her bobbed hair, a style Credence was trying to like for Tina's sake, but the correlations to his Ma were just too strong. "I see how it is. I ain't good enough for you, but you'll have to deal with it, sweetie; it's just me today."

"One never just deals with such a skilled maven of her craft as you." Mister Graves didn't flirt so much as shallowly compliment, and Credence was ensorcelled by the difference between the heavy trust and parted comments he reserved for Credence and the Goldsteins in comparison to others. It was a glimpse of the charisma on display yesterday, but highly localized, and it worked far better on a singular person than a crowd. He listened to Mister Graves order, and found himself caught out staring, but Mister Graves merely smiled almost self-consciously and leaned over the table.

"Goldie is a squib; she works as an informant for the department. Having a unique position of being acclimated to both worlds, she can report on things we might miss." The whisper sends another thrill through Credence.

"Are there many people working like that? Between both places?"

"The International Statute of Secrecy is different in each country; here we're not supposed to have any relationships with no-maj persons, no friendships, no lovers. A squib, as a wizard or witch with no or negligible magical aptitude, is in a legal grey area." Mister Graves pushes a glass of water toward Credence, who sips it instead of the coffee steaming in the mug. "I come in here every so often and smudge the memories a bit, pick a new name, carry on." Mister Graves doesn't look guilty at all in this, he speaks of it as one would their laundry, but it makes Credence's skin crawl at how easily he could have been made to forget his first glimpse of real magic.

Mister Graves continues, idly stroking the rim of the mug like he had his wine glass the night before, "In my department I have seventeen informants working in no-maj positions just in New York, but as Director I have about a hundred all over America. You'll hear some of this today probably, but we're in the middle of a mass recall and interrogation of our field agents and staff. I suspect that's where Goldie is now."

"Because of what He did?"

"There's no way of knowing how deep the corruption goes. Grindelwald didn't work alone. One man was caught, but the man isn't as dangerous as his beliefs are. Full-out war with the no-maj, as if it wasn't bad enough fighting on the same sides."

Credence studied Mister Graves carefully, "Did you fight in the Great War, Mister Graves?" he watches as his strong jaw clenches and his hands smooth along the front of his waistcoat.

"I did, many of us did."

When their breakfasts come, Credence has to focus on applying himself to actually eating the fried foods and smoked fish Mister Graves had picked out for him, so there was little room for his questions. Mister Graves had ordered a sizable breakfast himself, twice the size of Credence's, and yet he still finished before Credence had tackled even half of his plate.

In the Church Credence had been used to portioning out even the paltry sum he'd gotten on his plate, making sure the younger ones who were expected to walk the furthest handing out pamphlets were fed enough.

"Credence, when you were brought in from Scamander's care, do you recall the name of the person who interviewed you?"

"He introduced himself as Auror Potter." Credence was not sure how much more smoked fish he could eat, or if he even liked smoked fish; he was leaning toward not much on both ends.

Mister Graves nods and watches Credence struggle with his meal before he reaches out and pushes the rest of the fish onto his own plate, "Well, I'll know to leave fish off the lunch menu today."

"I'm sorry sir." Credence sighs softly, "It's very flavorful."

"Eat your corn fritters, they're light. Lighter at least."

Credence manages half the fritters and all of the toast, and Mister Graves carefully sections out money to pay for the meal, "Always easier with Goldie, she does this bit for me." He complained under his breath but Credence didn't think Mollie would mind at all the size of her tip.

"I'm going to requisition you one of the mailroom bags; I can't imagine you'd appreciate a briefcase quite yet."

"Mister Scamander was going to smuggle me out of the country in his suitcase."

Mister Graves takes them down a back alley and then another, making a snorting sound of amusement. "I'd heard something like that. I regret now not having the pleasure to speak to the man past his discovery of us. I'm not in full ownership of those memories, but I'm sure I just shouted at him hoarsely for most of it. I do apologize Credence, maybe a cab tomorrow?"

Credence nods quietly. Mister Scamander had been the one to remove the cursed pikes that had nailed Mister Graves to the floor boards. He leaned into the half embrace when Mister Graves pulled him close in preparation for apparition . He'd torn half the building apart at the sound of pain, the suffering. It was too much, had been too much, and now he was focused there again. He hadn’t even remembered the offer of a cab.

They take a step forward – Credence had learned to take a breath and let it out on the other side – and then they're in the bustle beside the Woolworth building and Credence's thoughts are once more pushed down under the awe and enchantment of the magical world.

"You belong here, Credence, just remember that." Mister Graves assures him as they're entering the elevator, but Credence is not sure if he will ever feel like he belongs anywhere, least of all in this life with Mister Graves using words like ward to describe him. He has so many sins on his skin, stitched across his heart, and he'd hurt so many; how could he begin to hope to belong here?

Chapter Text

On the floor that Credence knows is Investigations, they come upon Tina and the very important woman speaking outside of Graves' office door. Tina speaks quickly and the woman looks pinched about having to speak to Tina at all; Credence feels nausea sinking into him. He has some suspicion that this woman can see right through him, into the darkness inside of him.

"Percival, you're not late, but you certainly are not on your regular schedule yet. When I said custody, I didn't mean to imply that you run around the city with the Obscurial."

Tina looks at them desperately, "I only meant to say to President Picquery, I thought you'd be here soon because I caught sight of you finishing up breakfast."

"In a no-maj diner, of all places." President Picquery flicks her wrist, and the office door unlocks and slips open with a creak of magic.

After they've all entered and Mister Graves has hung up Credence's robes (but not his own) Mister Graves stands in a state of half attention, something relaxed but carefully composed to him, leaning against the edge of his own desk with his arms crossed. "His name is Credence, Seraphina." Mister Graves appears to be making a stand, and he waves Tina back toward the door, "Go get your sister off tea duty again today."

When Tina is gone and the door is shut the President considers him with a singular sweeping gaze before returning her attention to Mister Graves. "Despite your request for lighter duty I see you're not below requisitioning staff from other departments without paperwork."

Credence knows that he's not meant to hear this argument.

"Credence likes her." A careful shrug. Credence doesn't mind being used as an excuse.

"More like you're using an unlicensed, highly-skilled Legilimens to manage the emotional needs of the Obscurial when you have to leave him alone. I am being accused of blindness enough in the papers, Percy, be kind and say it to my face."

"You could never have known, Sera, no one knew." Mister Graves holds his chin steady and high, strong in his beliefs, "My own father wouldn't have known."

"Your father would have probably thrown his hat in with him. But I need you to rein it in. I need you with me, Percy."

Mister Graves takes a steadying breath and it's the only weakness he's shown since they'd caught sight of Tina and President Picquery in the hallway. "Sera, I'm compromised. Emotionally, rationally. I need time."

"That doesn't exactly give me any confidence in your offer to look after the Obscurial."

Mister Graves pushes to stand, "His name is Credence."

"Percy-"

"Sera."

She sighs, when she casts her attention to Credence he looks down, unable to match her consideration of him. "Fine, but I need to speak to him, alone. Your office will do, Auror Graves, if you'd wait for me in the hallway."

Mister Graves closes the door carefully behind him, and then Credence has to turn his expression away from it and the desperation he feels to be alone without someone he trusts . He knows that's why Queenie had been in the room with him before, why she'd been with him so often. He knew Mister Graves didn't fear the Obscurus, didn't fear him, and that Queenie could read his emotions, could find the place when it was too much and try to lead him away from the edge, but now he was alone.

Even in the bookshop he hadn't been completely alone, Mister Graves just within a shout's reach.

President Picquery twitches her wand and a chair slides over. Credence sits down hard on the sofa, which has more aloe leaves poking out of the arm of it today. The texture is oddly waxy under his hand where he clutches the edge of the cushion desperately. "Credence, if you do not wish to stay here I could likely work a deportation for you. Mister Scamander made it very clear he would take you in."

She breathes in a sigh, "The parasitical magical force inside of you is dangerous. Percival often thinks he can control things far beyond his power."

"He's been very kind to me, but I'm afraid of hurting people."

"Your sister, Modesty, we made sure she was placed in foster care upstate." She's not like Queenie, she can't read him like a book, but she's seeing between the cracks of his facade. "You need to be trained to control it, or work the magic back into you; I do not pretend to completely understand the work Mister Scamander was doing." She reaches into her ornate robes and pulls out a stack of loose pages. Credence's eyes widen in recognition of the pages that had been given to him. "These are yours." She hands the collection to him and he holds Mister Scamander's notes carefully to his chest.

"You need to tell me what you want. Not what other people want for you." She speaks with a certain level of forced detachment. He recognizes it in the way Mister Graves had spoken to him when they'd first met months ago. Not Him, but Mister Graves, trying to be fair while being impartial, while being just and lawful.

"I want to belong. Here." It's like prying a bandage off and taking skin with it, he can breathe when it's out of his chest.

She tilts her head and then nods. "Thank you, Credence, will you do something for me?" He nods without even considering it's something he might have a choice in.

"If you think Percival needs help with something, tell someone you think can help. It doesn't have to be me, but find someone you trust and let them know."

President Picquery stands from her chair and drifts her hand toward the door, which opens, revealing Mister Graves with his hands in his pockets, standing as casually as if he hadn't been turned out of his own office on his own floor.

"Percy, that stunt you pulled tying him to the pureblood Nyx family worked as you no doubt intended; a large portion of the Conservatives made the shift to demanding his placement. As they have no one qualified over you to train him, we're liable to finish early. Might I suggest you get him a wand as soon as possible?"

"One would think I might have planned for that already, President Picquery."

"Prickly Percy, do me a favor and hex yourself, I'm too busy." She strides off, her heels making the same exacting metallic sound that Mister Graves' brogues do.

"As soon as they have you under my full guardianship; we've an appointment already." Mister Graves makes tidy his desk; it looks almost as if he's killing time, trying to keep himself busy. Credence feels the restless energy settling into his own bones.

"For a wand?"

Mister Graves paces once before his desk and then pulls his wand from its holster, drawing to Credence to sit on the sofa beside him. Credence has seen the wand many times now, but never this close, and with a held breath, Mister Graves offers it to him .

He almost refuses, for the fear of an entire childhood is twisting up his chest, hollowing out his bones; Ma had died over a toy like this, just like this, that he'd pulled from under Modesty's bed. Or maybe it had been his hatred, his pain, years of it. He takes up the wand in his hand and feels nothing as spectacular as being smote or turned to a pillar of salt. The wand is even longer in his hands than by the study of his eyes; it has a surprisingly heavy weight, and despite the thin length was stiff and not at all yielding. Like the quills on the desk in front of them it is inlaid with metal, and Credence shifts it around carefully in his light grip.

"It's still learning me again; Grindelwald had it for the months I was in captivity. Wands have a kind of allegiance, and they'll pick the wizard. It disgusts me to say, but our loyalty to our causes is likely what allowed him to take mastery of my wand so easily."

"You are not like Him at all, Mister Graves." Credence hands the wand back with a shaking hand.

"No one could have known the difference, Credence, but I wasn't talking about that, merely how applied we are to our beliefs. It's not exactly admirable; I had so little of a social life he was able to completely fool everyone in my life."

"He could not begin to understand your kindness."

Mister Graves slips his wand back into the holster, a pained look passing his face for just a fraction of the space it took to take a breath. "You're a very sweet boy."

Mister Graves is still half turned toward him when a sharp knock comes to the door and they stiffen up together, Mister Graves standing and Credence trying to curl into himself once the quiet moment between them had been broken.

Tina and Queenie filter in, followed by the man Credence had been questioned by when he'd been brought in. Queenie makes herself at home on the sofa next to him as if she'd been invited to sit already, but Mister Graves didn't seem to mind and Credence felt soothed by her hand patting his own where it was clutching the waxy upholstery again.

"Director Graves, you asked to see me?"

"A moment, I'll walk you to the bullpen. Auror Goldstein, go track down Auror Lopez and tell her to spruce herself up and that you'll be taking on the bootleg Gigglewater investigation."

"I don't think she'll like that, but okay sir."

Auror Potter throws a glance over Credence and Queenie curiously as Mister Graves shows him out.

"I'll be back in half an hour if not sooner. Queenie, the password to my briefcase is," he waited a pause till she nodded with a smile, "You'll find his bookwork in there."

"I've never gotten to teach anybody before!" She sounds far more excited than Credence expects her to, and Mister Graves too maybe.

"No spells, he's to get a solid foundation of understanding in our world before charmwork."

"Of course Mister Graves, sir." Queenie smiles beatifically and then the door is shut.

Queenie sets up his books on the floor, making them full-sized again, and he finds among them the supplementary book A Primer in Terminology for No-Maj Born Children and his history book, marked at his last page now with a piece of scrap paper. Mister Graves must have kept it for him, and he hides his face halfway in his borrowed scarf. "Aw honey, I think he's just glad to have someone to look after." She pats his hand and he watches as she turns two unused candles into floor cushions.

Together they sit before the arranged books and paper and Credence holds the book open in his lap. "Missus Queenie, what does scourgification do?"

"That's a cleaning spell, I use it all the time, do you want me to teach it to you, sweetie?"

He does, but he also remembers Mister Graves' command. "Not yet."

Chapter Text

Queenie answers some of his questions before he can reference them or ask himself, various spells he now had explanations for; Aparecium, Incarcerous, and Silencio. Although the last two he could parse on his own, her confirmation helps him to have more faith in his own understanding of his readings.

He doesn't realize he's passed through two chapters till he reads the header of the sixth and slides the book shut. "Mister Graves told me to wait to read this one."

Queenie looks up from the art text with a smile, blinking at him. "That's fine sweetheart, are you getting hungry?"

He shakes his head, but he can read from her face that she already knows. Then a frown flits over her soft features and there is a shout from outside. Credence jerks inward. Louder still, the door jangles swiftly, someone trying to pry it open. There is the flash of light that Credence understands as spellwork, then louder voices, and Queenie has her wand out and is standing between him and the door, her stance defensive; Credence has his back to the desk, but he's not all there.

The howl of wind, the pain of the lash, the fear, and the memory of violence. There is a bright flash of light that nearly blinds him from under the door, and then it's silent. Softer voices from outside. Queenie turns to him and she doesn't look frightened, he's himself again then.

Mister Graves opens the door, and there is nothing in the hallway but empty air. He looks relieved to see them, and Credence feels his own relief flood him like his first illicit sip of whiskey had done; he couldn't stand now if he tried.

"Someone cast imperio over Felicity Langley." Mister Graves shuts the door behind himself, and Queenie stands firm, still with her wand trained. "Goldstein?" When she doesn’t move, Mister Graves takes a steadying breath and closes his eyes. Almost right away Queenie lowers her wand and gives a small nervous laugh.

"Oh Mister Graves, gold is his color!" Credence doesn't know what she's talking about.

Queenie hands her wand to Mister Graves and Credence watches from his place still shivering on the floor as the man pointed his own wand at it and said very softly, "Prior Incantato." He needed no book to understand this; his learning of Latin was strong enough.

From the wand drew a collection of ethereal light that took various shapes: a couple of cushions, a few books growing larger, a swishing bottle-brush, a cracking lock, and then a steady stream of pots and pans and laundry bags. Mister Graves waves his hand through the air and they all vanish, and then he held the wand back to Queenie as one would when handling a knife down the kitchen washing line. Queenie tucked her wand away, and then Credence was being helped up by both of them and his things put away into a new bag that Mister Graves had brought in with him.

"Full lockdown, and all of Congress about to be convened; I've got to go handle this. Tina should be along soon, she was having her wand inspected. Queenie, you're doing well; check anyone that tries to stop you."

"You didn't have your wand inspected, sir?"

"I knocked poor Langely straight through a wall. I suppose no one thought it necessary." He withdraws, and with much more hesitation than he'd shown allowing Credence to inspect his wand, he held it out to Queenie. She repeated the spell, but this time with her back to Credence so that all he could see were the faint impressions of light over the desk.

"Mister Graves?" Credence manages to speak, and the tension in the room drops as Mister Graves turns to him, Credence's robes in one hand and the bag with his things in the other. "What's happened?"

"Someone used a very terrible curse to try and get into my office. Someone took control of the mind of a tea girl and we're having to check everyone's wands to see who did this."

"She was trying to get to me?"

Mister Graves glances at Queenie and then Credence, "And that’s on me; I should have used more subterfuge when requisitioning Miss Goldstein."

Queenie turns around while Mister Graves is helping him into his coat and waits to hand the wand back, in the same careful fashion her own wand had been handled. "Back to the interview room?"

"For another half an hour." They walk together. Credence is as hopelessly lost as he's been every other time they've walked the building, and he's always been good at taking to directions quickly. Ma had always been on the lookout for new places to speak to the people about the dangers of sorcery.

Tina meets them coming down the hall and there is less of a trip-up with Queenie this time, but Credence realizes they probably carry on whole conversations without saying much at all.

Mister Graves pulls a chair out for him and then finally hands him the bag, triggering Credence's memory. "I'm to that chapter sir."

A look of comprehension flits past, a flicker of a smile, "Quick reader. Alright then, to take up your time, I'd like you to write four inches on which house at Ilvermorny you would have wanted to be sorted into."

Credence feels a rising tide of panic, but it's the superficial kind. Queenie brings a tray of cocoa over from a table in the corner of the room and Tina settles down across from him. His guard, he realizes with some guilt. "What if they wouldn't have wanted me?"

"Just try your best to work through that." Mister Graves leans forward over him, till their cheeks are almost touching, "Don't let Tina bully you into Thunderbird."

"Sir, I would never!"

Before Mister Graves rises, he taps Credence's borrowed scarf twice with his wand and the color of the soft silk floods out in a ripple, brilliant gold, as bright and glimmering as anything, scales shifting under the sun before the enchantment settles and the silk lies still again. "Four inches on your house of choice."

"Yes sir." Credence’s breath holds fast till the door closes behind Mister Graves.

"He didn't say anything about me tempting you though," Queenie teases and puts a cup of cocoa before him while he deals with his books and parchment, "Pukwudgie is filled with just the nicest people you could ever imagine."

“That's not fair Queenie; if you're representing one house the others should get a fair shake." Tina bites her lip, "I'm sure if he were here he'd agree, so I'll stand in for Thunderbird."

"What was Mister Graves?" Credence turns to the page on the founding of the houses by sense memory, the book cracking right into the proper width, and he feels the first bit of satisfaction he has all day.

"I would bet a half week's pay it's Wampus, but I don't know. We'll say Wampus for now though." Tina reaches out and takes a sip of her own cocoa.

"President Picquery was Horned Serpent but everyone knows she was a statue stiller, they all wanted her in their houses." Queenie doesn't have to explain what that is, Credence read about the way the statues chose their students.

"So that's a representative for each house you know, provided I'm right about Graves." Tina smiles.

"I feel like, like I'd be making a choice to tie myself to an allegiance over a house."

"Oh honey, no, we won't care which one you choose, it's just for you to know yourself."

"Queenie, don't skim off Graves, he hates that." Tina chastises, but Queenie seems to ignore her.

"Where do you want to go, what do you want your education to be like?" Queenie taps her finger on the page with all the crests: the intricate Celtic knots and the animals all representative of portions of the school's founders, or the schools founding itself. "This is for you."

He nods and manages to open his ink well and figure out the application of ink to quill. He wonders if he should put his name in like for lessons, but then saw the flawed logic in this as Mister Graves no doubt would know where it was coming from; he was his only student as far as Credence knew. He measures four inches off with his thumb and sits back to gather his thoughts, not wanting to waste paper on the idle sort. While he concentrates, the sisters speak about the short battle that had taken place in the hallway, stops and starts. Half of the sentences weren't spoken out loud, but he can get the gist of it.

"You should tell Healer Monroe he was favoring his side like that." Queenie worries aloud, right as Credence is setting into his first paragraph.

"And have him snarl at me for the rest of the week? It probably had more to do with the fact that he was blasting through all those barrier charms; he really did fling her through a wall. She's in the ward for blast damage over mental. I'd like to see someone try and claim he's unfit for active duty." Tina's loyalty shines through.

Queenie still looks worried till Tina starts telling her about how badly Auror Lopez took to being told her clothing wasn't fancy enough, but Credence has already come to the decision that it's his duty to make sure Mister Graves is taking care of himself. He'd promised President Picquery after all.

He's mentally rewriting the last sentence over and over when the door slides open, and he watches the peculiar stop and start as Queenie checks Mister Graves again. There is a new person with him, a short woman about his Ma's height with dark skin and her hair cut in a decidedly manly fashion. Her clothing was a man's suit and her robes were cut in a style more like Mister Graves' than Tina's. Ma had words for women like this but all Credence could think was that she looked like she could withstand anything life threw at her, and that was something to be admired.

"Auror Lopez, this is Credence Barebone."

"Sorry about blastin' you, pollito, no hard feelings." He doesn't know what she has called him, but he is relatively sure it's not an insult. "Tina, I sent you the files, give Potter extra shit for me if he tries and says I didn't fill out the forms right. I guess I gotta go into the ring of fire so."

"I am submitting Lopez as my choice for Director." Mister Graves braces his hands at the back of Credence's chair; it isn't looming so much, but Credence flushes and applies himself to finishing his written sentence.

Tina nods sharply, "That's the most logical choice, sir."

"He'll still be overseeing the department of aurors- like I want to be on both shitshows." Lopez snorts and Credence flushes, no, Ma definitely would have had many choice words for her.

"I'll be sure that when I finally submit for retirement I put you in again as a replacement, Lopez. We can change the engraving on the office door to Ringleader of the Shitshow."

Credence coughs, buries his face into the cold gold of his borrowed scarf. Mister Graves' lips drip a very potent kind of decadent sin; Credence has never cursed in his entire life.

Mister Graves leans down enough to tell Credence to get his things together, a soft command, and Credence's hands only shake a little recapping the inkwell. Tina branches off from them in the hall, and Auror Lopez takes up her place at Mister Graves' left, Credence tucked between all of them with Queenie holding onto his arm.

Credence manages to meet the gaze of the crowd, one hand clasped in Queenie's, one hand wrapped bruising tight around the strap of his bag. President Picquery nods to him, and then his gaze trails higher. Artemisia Nyx is floating in a constellation of his sins above him. Chastity isn't up there, but the Obscurus hadn't killed her, the collapsing of the Church beam had, in the destruction laid waste caused by his terror. He hadn't embraced it till He had tried to take Modesty with him.

"I think Congress can all agree that the familial resemblance between Credence Barebone and Artemisia Nyx is proof to his place in our world." President Picquery's words cause a mumble but nothing so loud as dissension.

"As the last heir to the name-line, Credence's blood carries the talent and power of generations of wizards." Mister Graves' voice carries so much command; it is what drags Credence away from his focus on the ceiling. "I challenge any here to debate his inclusion in our world."

No one dared.

"Have you a candidate for your temporary replacement?" The President asks.

Mister Graves breaks from his side, and Auror Lopez draws forward with him. "With her perfect record and dedication to the job, there is no one I would hold in higher regard to serve and protect the security of our world in my stead."

"A consideration will be made; other candidates can be submitted to me upon adjournal." President Picquery states, but Credence can tell she's already made her choice.

A singular figure stands in the dais and Credence's attention flickers there, before the richness of the garb tells him all he needs to know: he has no right to put his eyes on the man, and his gaze shudders back down to a point around the middle of Mister Graves' back.

"I have no complaint," the voice is the same kind of careful intonation as Senator Shaw had, money, "With the boy joining our world, nor your appointment of Auror Lopez as replacement, but I see that you have not supplied for our consideration a very important decision."

"And what is that, Congressman Day?" Mister Graves' distaste for the man is clear in the clipped way he addresses him.

"Who would really be best qualified to bring him into our world."

"Myself of course." Mister Graves moves his hand in a wave of dismissal but the man doesn't bend in humiliation as others had done.

"If someone were to come for the boy, before he was trained properly, would he not be as easily used as weapon as he was before?"

"Gellert Grindelwald is in MACUSA custody awaiting extradition to Europe to stand trial for his crimes against the Statute of Secrecy; you imply one of his followers?"

"Isn't that exactly what happened today, Director Graves?" Congressman Day asks.

"And as the paperwork I filed implies, I handled it."

Congressman Day laughs softly, a hand flicking out, Credence catches the motion over the broad width of Mister Graves' shoulders, "Of course no one would doubt your prowess on the field of battle, Director Graves, and yet even you submitted beneath the attack of Gellert Grindelwald."

President Picquery stands elegantly, "As any of us likely would. We owe Newton Scamander a debt of gratitude for the capture of Gellert Grindelwald and the reversal of the damage done under his manipulations. Do you have a candidate you would submit for guardianship of the Obscurial Credence Barebone?"

"I do, President. As a leading expert on dark arts and their uses in modern magic, I submit myself."

"Absolutely not, Felix, you’ll take him over my dead body." Mister Graves does not let anger claim him; his voice remains cold, there is no heat or passion in the declaration, he just very much means it. Credence shudders and Queenie puts her arm straight around him, the wards on the ground glow a sharp gold.

"I propose a silent vote over the matter concerning the Obscurus." Congressman Day's voice drips condescension, Credence feels dizzy.

"Shh, honey, shh, it’s okay." Queenie soothes him, the voices rise, or the wind sound does, radio static. Queenie steps back with a sharp jerk as the floor beneath Credence's feet cracks with a sound like lightning.

Mister Graves' hand is warmly familiar through the cold, takes him right out of the dark like arms pulling him from deep water. Congressman Day's wand tips back and forth, dancing with the weft and weave that the Obscurus moves in, a barrier against the pain. Credence collapses into Mister Graves' arms and the Obscurus vanishes back into him.

The sound of voices rises to a crescendo and Credence blacks out, blissfully unaware.

Chapter Text

Credence slips in and out of awareness, the soft flood of voices now soothing and gentle, sometimes whispers, and sometimes a hand in his hair. He knows more from this that he's not in the church than from any actual memories; Ma would never be so gentle.

The light is dim when he wakes for good, he feels hollowed out, not hungry but weak. The sofa feels more plant than upholstery now and it smells strongly of medicine. He sits up and rubs at his eyes. Moving causes a soft chime to sound and the door opens, but the hallway outside of Mister Graves' office doesn't look the same. It is now another room entirely, filled with filing cabinets and a small table with a collection of chairs around it. Queenie comes into the darkened room with a watery smile and brushes his hair back for him.

"How are you feeling sweetie?"

"Did I hurt anyone?"

Queenie shakes her head, the voices continue in the other room, and Credence glances up to see the silhouette of Mister Graves in the doorway. "Someone tampered with the warded seal; it's not your fault Credence." She promises, but he can't help but think if it had been someplace else, if it had just been Mister Graves there. The man was still hurt from his encounter with Him as Tina had proved earlier.

"Come along into the records room Credence." Mister Graves motions with one hand and Credence stands with Queenie's help, moving into the other room.

The President is sitting at the table, a mug of coffee imprinted with her lipstick, her ornamental robes draped over the chair back behind her. "As I was saying Percival, there's no way I can just bar a silent vote, it's not democratic, and as Day's point was made very dramatically, the Obscurus still poses as a danger to all of us, whether Credence himself is or not."

Mister Graves rocks on his heels, hands shoved into his pockets, Queenie urges Credence down into the only chair empty, one between Tina and Queenie's with Mister Graves' robes and suit jacket draped over the back.

"Day's in league with Grindelwald." Mister Graves' declaration causes Tina to look up sharply from her morose focus on her own coffee.

President Picquery sighs softly, as if long pressed, "There's the paranoia that got you so far. You have no evidence to back that and even I think you're stretching Percival. Your emotional attachment to the case is clouding your judgment."

"Fine, I'll take that." Mister Graves takes a deep breath, reaches out to run his hand along a filing cabinet. "Credence is safest with me."

"The argument they're making is rather who can safeguard us better. Felix is an awful man and we both hexed him in school more than enough times but well, he certainly performed." President Picquery takes another sip of her coffee, "And he'll have the backing of the conservatives."

"If we stop putting Credence into situations that upset him we wouldn't need to be protected from anything." Mister Graves snaps.

Queenie nods, "He's right."

"As simple a solution it should be," President Picquery sighs, "But we cannot upend our government to pacify a singular wizard." She nods her head toward Credence, "Nothing personal."

He nods but Credence feels the guilt weighing him down, his back curves enough to feel Mister Graves' wand pressing into it from the man's coat on the chair and he rests there, just enough to feel the indent of it against him.

He had gone from wanting to belong to belonging too much, till he was being pulled between what he could only interpret as powerful factions within the government he now belonged. Again he was being seen as a thing, and yet with his back to the wand, Mister Graves without his most important tool and perhaps trusting Credence with it, again, Credence did not feel that Mister Graves thought of him as the Obscurial or even a Nyx. While he had been the one to even use that name to his advantage, he had an inkling that perhaps Mister Graves didn't care at all who he was, because he'd been Credence all along. He was the boy who saw through his dissilusionment spell, who withstood the obliviation, who was magic without having any magic.

Queenie reaches out and squeezes his hand. "I don't see why they can't just let you stay with whoever you want."

"Wards, staff, safeguards. Resources really." The president shrugs elegantly.

"Felix Day has a manor estate up in the Hamptons," Mister Graves continues the idle stroke of his fingers against the wooden edge of the cabinet, "He has a lab up there where he does research into curse-work, publishes through MACUSA. Old family, older manor, it's overlaid with more wards than our last office had been."

"In contrast you have Percival's bachelor apartment. If you hadn't dissolved your family holdings this would be easier, you realize."

"Thank you Seraphina, as if I did not already consider how the Graves estates would have benefited me many times in the last months, let alone half a week."

"I think our best tactic would be to stall them for a few days, I'll need you here for that Percival." President Picquery leans forward, "Completely here, you'll have to leave Credence with Goldstein," She turns her attention to the sisters, "Either of you will do."

"Merlin's tits why are they even bothering with a hearing over your actions," Mister Graves hisses and the difference between this anger and subsequent cursing and the quiet contained rage when confronting Congressman Day is a breath in Credence's lungs, nothing but the barest heat, defense of a friend, "Anyone with eyes can see you went above and beyond what any other wizard of our age would have had the intelligence and patience for. Scamander had the resources but you didn't waste them."

"I'm not so sure history will read this travesty the same way. If I had for instance listened to Auror Goldstein instead of so swiftly discounted her, if I had enacted tighter security on the premises, there are many faults, I am not one to assign the blame unduly, or allow others to take it for me." She spreads her hands against the table to make a triangle around her mug, "I'll need you here Percival, as Director. It will likely be a week, maybe longer, we can make the argument that the Obscurial has settled with you and it would be emotionally harmful to the host to move him."

"I need tomorrow, Credence needs a wand."

"Granted, I'll convene in the afternoon and inform Congress my hearing will begin the next day."

"I'm glad I already had mine." Tina breathes a sigh of relief, and Mister Graves makes a snort of dry amusement.

"As if they'd have decided anything other than reinstating you, you practically saved us from all-out war with the no-maj Porpentina, you and your group of adventurers, you didn't drag Credence into Thunderbird did you?" He chides and Credence brightens up, hand clutching at his bag.

"I finished my report Mister Graves, before- before everything happened."

"You're actually giving him reports to do Percy?" The president's voice is soft and fluid, Credence realizes it's teasing, and he flushes softly, fiddling with the metal clasp on his bag, or the mailroom's bag. "Is this whole stunt just a ploy to tender your resignation? Will I be needing to write a letter of reference to Ilvermorny next? I suppose you'll want the Defence against the Dark Arts position."

"I take my job very seriously Seraphina. All of them, if I make it to headmaster I'll make sure you get a statue somewhere, Most Aggravating President of MACUSA History I'll make sure they make your headdress higher than your torso." Mister Graves is charismatic, speaking as he walks, Credence can't imagine he'd like teaching students very much, but his thoughts are interrupted when the man braces Credence's shoulders between his hands, wrapping them around slender bones and leaning over Credence, "Let's see it my boy."

So Credence carefully unrolls the scroll and holds up the top section with his report.

"You're killing me here Credence." Mister Graves murmurs under his breath.

"Credence had to pick what house he'd want to be in, if he'd gone to Ilvermorny." Queenie explains chipper and sunshine soft to the president.

To this President Picquery perks up herself, and leans forward, catching Credence's eyes and he even manages to hold gaze with her for a fraction of time before falling away.

"I mean how can I argue with it, you're sound in your understanding of the house nuances, you considered each and chose what you held valuable, good reasoning, good comprehension."

"And which did you choose?" Picquery asks him.

"Horned Serpent. I w-want to know all I can about magic, I want to learn everything I should have."

Picquery actually smiles at him, a pleased and faintly proud smile, "What a bright boy."

"He's mine, I saw him first." Mister Graves squeezes his shoulder.

"Actually, I did." Tina frowns.

"Come on Porpentina, work with me here." Mister Graves laughs, "Have some loyalty to your superior."

It's a softer, nicer version of the pull and tug going on above him from the one before, the factions at play that he cannot even begin to understand, but he can this. These people were his friends or beginning to be his friends. Mister Graves wanted him here, and Tina, and Queenie, and well maybe even the president if only for everyone else's sake and her own view of justice. It was a higher and loftier view than Ma's had been and strict too but in a way that wasn't supposed to be cruel just fair, just enough to keep her people safe.

They joke around him, not that Credence is paying exact attention to the sounds, he's tired still he finds, although he has no way of knowing how long he'd been asleep before, he drifts to the pressure of Mister Graves' hands on his shoulders, small circles rolled into his shoulder blades, to their gentle voices. It isn't sleep but it is companionable and nice, and Queenie repeats things for him when he's asked something.

After a time there's a knock to the door and Auror Potter comes in, looking odd in a workman's jumpsuit, dust in his hair and a smudge of dirt on his dark skin, "We finished with the work down of the warding floor, got the marble and enchantments back in, the Preservationalists are in fits by the way, can someone please remind them we're only a couple years in, sweet Morgana, they're like harpies."

"Focus Potter." Mister Graves intones and Credence certainly focuses under the command of that voice, his stomach twisting up at the contrast of circling thumb to his shoulder blades with the steel of his order.

"Yessir, alright so someone set up a triggering spell on the ceiling of the maintenance tunnel, every time someone would say Obscurus it cast a very low grade disruption charm, it'd probably been running since the trial began."

"A contraption?"

"Yessir, the floor collapsed on that part of the tunnel but we found a little metal bird crushed up down there, pretty trinket but awfully out of place. Lopez has us working with maintenance staff to check out the rest of the building."

"Keep me updated." Mister Graves dismisses but the President holds her hand up.

"Potter, put a copy of the report on my desk if you would, and tell Lopez she can have any resources she needs from me."

A salute, and then Auror Potter is gone.

"The sooner Europe takes back their problem the better." The president frowns, "Okay, I've been hiding in the auror department long enough, I do miss this place."

"The failings of political acumen. You don't get to get your shoes dirty or hex people in the face." Mister Graves moves around the table to help her back into her over-robes.

"Or fling them through walls, my walls, which I have to find funding to pay for them to be checked for structural damage now."

Mister Graves shrugs in an elegant and completely unapologetic way.

He then delegates orders and robes are fetched back and put on, Tina and Queenie give Credence hugs, a hitch of his breath and his own nervous standing into them, an incline of his weight and the relief that they don't seem to be put out by his ill practiced affections. The hand returns to his back as Mister Graves leads him through the loud collection of desks settled together and witches and wizards in leather overcoats.

They stop at every other desk or so, Mister Graves getting updates or giving advice, by the time they reach the elevator Credence has been introduced seven times and each time Mister Graves had called him his ward until Credence is filled up with the word itself, orphans rescued out of dark workhouses, out of godless orphanages, but he didn't deserve it.

Mister Graves leads him along, stiff backed and hard command, down the steps and then down the street, his pace slipping to a more leisurely one. The sun is just setting, and Credence can read it's probably almost six then. He hopes Mister Graves had lunch, magic takes a lot out of a person, he knows now.

"Mister Graves, is Auror Lopez descended from Carlos Lopez?"

"She is, one of the first twelve aurors in the United States. The Original Twelve, there's a statue of them. I was intending on furthering your education in Magical Law Enforcement once we're in to third year coursework. A bit early but you're not a child anyway. Who else have you picked out?"

"Auror Potter."

"Good. That should be all then, the rest of them thinned out into other branches."

Credence gives him a sidelong glance, notes the tension of his jaw. "That's not all of them, Mister Graves."

Graves sighs, "Gondulphus Graves, yes you're right. There has never at any point not been a Graves in the department. Even my mother was an auror, and in fact this was how my parents met, which was told to me many times in hope I would do likewise by my father."

"Mister Graves?"

"Yes Credence?" Completely concentrated on him instead of the road they were crossing, backwards from how it should have been, but wizards didn't get hit by cars Credence imagined, at least not often, or rather not unless the car was being thrown at them by another wizard.

"You like your job very much, don't you?"

Mister Graves looks at him with a subdued glimpse of surprise, nothing more than the parting of lips, and then the twitch of a smile, "I do, it is as much a part of me as my hands and my dedication and fidelity to MACUSA was never something I've been faulted for, save by my father."

"But wasn't he, I mean, how could he not be proud of you?"

"For the simple reason that nothing could or would ever come before the job for me Credence, I've had absolutely no interest in marriage. I know you have little knowledge of blood lines in our world, how important a name-line is to some families, but your inclusion is so readily accepted because of it, I'm sure with your intellect you can theorize how my intentions to die a bachelor challenge someone so invested in continuing on the legacy."

The apartment made a lot more sense now, and Credence nodded quietly.

"Weren't you lonely?" Credence feels like maybe he's overstepping but it's hard to remember to silence himself when being led down the darkening sidewalks by a steady hand.

"I didn't slow down enough to consider it until I was forced to." Mister Graves checks his bearings it seems, looking up at the street signs, "Which way is Jersey?"

Credence looks around and points, to which Mister Graves begins to lead them again. "Mister Graves, you don't mean to walk all the way there?"

"I had been considering it, or a portion." He sighs, "It's far isn't it?"

"A little sir, I can walk it, but you must be hungry sir."

Mister Graves gives him a strange look, "Credence are you trying to imply something?"

Credence bunches in on himself, head bowed, "No sir."

A soft sigh, the hand moves from his back and they're stilled along the opening to an alleyway between two storefronts, now closed for the day. Mister Graves brings his chin up in one hand, draws the other to splay against his cheek. "I was very lonely, I'm not now. Do you know why?"

"Queenie said maybe you just like to have someone to look after."

"Queenie needs to keep her nose out of my things. But she's partially right. You think I need to eat dinner, honesty now."

"You must be hungry; I worry for you walking all the way to Jersey after today."

Mister Graves smiles at him, a thin sliver of emotion, Credence shivers but he's never felt more warm. "You're a sweet boy, Credence. We'll apparate then."

"Mister Graves, did you consider maybe, if I could do the same, to care for you as you do me?"

The hands leave his face but the closeness is continued, Mister Graves twines an arm around him and Credence feels the heat of his palm against the curve of his hip. Leading him down the darkened alley but there are no Second Salem posters here, no remnants of the soup from yesterday, nothing but haberdashery things and posters for a Jazz club that Credence struggles not to linger over, Illustrations were the devil's propaganda. "You want to take care of me?"

"I can cook."

Mister Graves laughs sharply, a full sound, it echoes in the corners of the alleyway. "Your judgment burns me Credence."

"I would never judge a man as good as you."

"You should, you know," Mister Graves apparates them into another alleyway with the softest sound and they continue to walk, much of Credence's weight taken by his guardian, "I'm a terrible man, did you know I'm a wizard?"

Credence feels his heart beat fast, the curve of words, playful and dry, his hands grip the strap of the mailroom's bag. "I'll put you in my prayers."

"Circe's smile, Credence sometimes I think you're flirting with me."

Credence curls into himself, shaking his head sharply, liar, liar, liar, sinner, sinner, sinner.

"Ah, here we are." Mister Graves stops them before a restaurant, bright lights and the heavy scent of spice, "If I had to eat chicken again I was going to have to change my registered animagus form."

Credence knew what this was, but his curiosity was perked, and he made a note to ask Mister Graves when he had the courage for it, what his form was. He also wasn't sure if that was a joke or not, but a glance to the curve of Mister Graves' lips answers it for him. The hand leaves his hip a slow slide that sends an unholy curl of want through him that he's doubly glad Queenie isn't around to skim off him. Mister Graves takes his arm instead and draws him up to the front of the building, but not inside. Next to an open window is a counter and Credence can see a peddling cart tucked under an awning in front of the steps leading inside.

Credence watches in careful awe as Mister Graves speaks to the man in the restaurant at length in Italian he thinks, but he doesn’t understand any of it, when the man ducks back in through the window Mister Graves turns to him with an apologetic smile, "You've a grasp on Latin, haven't you Credence?"

"Yes sir."

"Any other languages flitting around up there?"

"Just English sir."

"Good."

Credence isn't sure why this is good, he would have liked to understand the man especially when he stuck his head back out with a grinning leer to hand Mister Graves a large platter with an odd pie upon it, very thin and smelling deliciously savory.

Mister Graves leads them around the building to cafe style seating. "They're about to be hit by the subway rush of people coming in off the boroughs." Mister Graves settles them and Credence watches him take up a slice of the pie and fold it in half, taking a bite. Cheese, tomato sauce, they had spaghetti sometimes in the summer when the tomato crop was sizeable but cheese was a luxury, tomato pie, a luxury. "Eat up Credence I can't eat a whole pie on my own."

Credence mimics him in the taking of a slice and bites in.

It feels heavy in him but for the first time in days, or maybe weeks now, he actually feels hungry, so he manages two slices on his own and is eyeing a third by the time the sound of patrons around the building begins. "There's the appetite. Wish it hadn't come about the way it had but I'm glad to see it." Mister Graves pushes the slice over to him and Credence sets in to it.

"Credence, in your estimate, what do you think would be gained by exposing congress to the Obscurus?" Mister Graves' question takes Credence off guard; he carefully chews the rest of his bite, taking the time to think about his answer.

"Fear and alarm, Ma used current events, unexplained things, or the sickness to blame on witches, to draw people in by their fear. Witches don't fear magic they can control but I'm unknown."

"You're nothing to be feared Credence, the Obscurus is something to be understood that feeds off of you, but I understand your meaning. I think you're right, I think someone set up the contraption not to cause physical damage but to keep congress on edge."

"The President, she seemed, I mean, I don't think she thought I should be outside."

"One of the safest places for you is going to be in large populations of people, I know that congress fears the Obscurus and I've read the reports, clearly it's a force capable of great destruction, they'll want to keep you away from the populace. Tucked away in a manor estate, in a back room, in a place as close to a cell as their conscious could stand. There isn't much morality in a large group of people Credence, even less when it comes to wizards and no-maj, and while I was able to find your real mother, that's only going to go so far."

"You don't agree with them?"

"No, but I'm more concerned with keeping you from being taken and manipulated again." Mister Graves' hands clutch on the edge of the wooden table.

"I'm worried about you Mister Graves, you're not afraid of the Obscurus, but it's hurt so many people and you, you've put yourself within, within my grasp when it's, when I'm less me. You shouldn't do that." Credence trips over his words he can't look up, the tomato pie gets blurry, he blinks till things are sharp again.

"Credence you're not going to hurt me."

"It gets so loud, I hurt Ma, I-I killed her." Mister Graves reaches out and grasps his arms and they're no longer at the table. Credence sits down heavily off balance in some grass and Mister Graves is pulled with him into a kneeling position. The park around them is so quiet compared to the buzz of voices around the restaurant.

"Credence, do you remember attacking your mother?"

"No."

Mister Graves soothes his hands up his arms, from shoulder to wrist, rising up again they stop to rest gentle where Credence had begged to be healed, the touch is firm but delicate in a way that makes him remember to breathe.

"Credence, this is important, do you remember attacking Gellert Grindelwald in the subway?"

"He was trying to kill Mister Scamander." Credence shudders, he remembers, electricity, screaming, that single minded anger.

"Do you remember finding me?"

"Yes Mister Graves, you were so still I thought you were dead."

Mister Graves reaches up his hand to gentle his thumb along Credence's cheek, hold his face up to see him. "I thought you were death Credence. You're not going to hurt me, Obscurial or no, when you found me you weren't human, but you were still the gentlest thing." Mister Graves presses forward, hand sliding around Credence's neck but then up to tangle into his hair. Credence blinks tears away when Mister Graves kisses his temple, "It killed those people, but it's more a part of you now then it was before, you became it for a time, we'll see what that means, but I'm not afraid of you Credence."

"I don't want to hurt you." He shudders into the sacred space tucked in almost flush to Mister Graves' throat, the scent of the day and the lingering spice of cologne that had sunk into his clothes, he shivers.

Mister Graves misunderstands, arms drifting down, around him, tucked kneeling between Credence's sprawled inelegant legs he draws Credence to the heat of him. "You're about as harmful as a puffskein, shit you're freezing."

"I don't feel cold sir." He whispers, hands moving between them, clutching loose at Graves' cloak lapels, head tilted just a little, eyes closed, Mister Graves tightens his grip on him, they’re so close here, so close and Credence can feel the heat of Mister Graves bleeding through the layers between them.

"What are you inverts doing?!" A shout and Credence falls directly back, or he would if Mister Graves had not kept an arm around him. In the space of a breath he's pulled up off the grass, a flash of light, another pop and they're walking along, Credence's head spinning from the apparition.

"Damnit, damnit that park was-"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Credence sobbing over him and they meet the doorman both of them in kind silent and despairing, and Credence turns when they're in the apartment again and Mister Graves is pinched and helping him out of his robes, "I'm sorry, I'm wrong, I'm sorry."

"I shouldn't have taken you there, it'd been months, the vice raids probably routed it out, what was I thinking, shit." Mister Graves grits his jaw and then pauses.

"I'm sorry, they think, because I'm, I just Ma said I always had the look, and I'm sorry."

Mister Graves gentles his arms down away from his center, soothes his warm hands over Credence's shoulders, his throat, the heave of his chest, working him down till Credence can breathe again, till he feels weak and Mister Graves takes him to the sitting room and puts his arm around him on the sofa. "I think maybe it would be best for the both of us if we forget that ever happened just as the police officer I obliviated has."

Credence is tucked into Mister Graves' side and he wants to apologize again for the implication he brings to things, for the sin he commits upon Mister Graves' reputation but that would be ignoring the proclamation and he'll take the command as rule of the Lord if it eases something for Mister Graves. When the hand reaches from his shoulder to tangle again into his hair, Credence decides it's the right choice.

"Read us that chapter, my boy." Graves encourages him and Credence brings the book from the bag on his lap, thumbing open the page with care.

Credence learns that Rappaport's law exists because of the Barebones, he learns of the fear, the loss, and the violence that went hand in hand with witchcraft in America. He looks at the Second Salemers from the perspective of an outsider, that the movement Ma had headed which continues in her passing by those just like her is far less comical and meddlesome from the pages of a hidden history. That the hatred of people like the newspaperman Shaw and his Ma, othered witches and wizards into obscurity.

"These laws, like Rappaport's law and the Statue of Secrecy that governs every wizarding community keep our kind alive."

"He wants to break the statute, Mister Graves?"

The hand leaves his hair and Mister Graves leans over the table with shaking hands, twitches his hand and a case flings over to it from the pocket of his robes by the door. He flicks it open and takes out a cigarette, Credence watches in subdued thrall as he lights it and drags in a breath. It doesn't smell like the cigarettes he's seen people smoke before, it smells floral almost, a hint of spice. "He wants a war to subjugate no-maj under us; I heard enough of the propaganda in Europe. Our laws might seem cruel to you Credence, in part they've been nothing but cruel to you specifically, the inactivity over your suffering, the allowance when abuse was confirmed to let it continue. Not to mention plagues, wars, famine."

Credence looks down at the book in his hands, "When you've revealed yourself worse things have happened."

"You're beautiful you know? Your heart is beautiful." Mister Graves takes another drag of his cigarette, he isn't looking at Credence to call him that, but the weight of the words holds no less import.

He doesn't know how to respond to that so he doesn't, "Mister Graves were you hurt today? In the hall outside your office, when you fought with the girl under the curse?"

Mister Graves makes a face, somewhere between a wince and a cringe, his hand curls around himself to press palm-flat to his right side. "We can easily heal non-magical ailments, a spider's bite, a bruise, gets harder when it's magic. Curses linger even after the healing is done."

Credence reaches out a tentative hand to touch Mister Graves' own, "Do you need help?"

Mister Graves looks at him, gaze lingering, "What do you imply?"

Credence has nothing he can do that would not be better filled by the cabinet in Mister Graves' bathroom, by a real witch capable of healing with a twist of her wand, but he is here and he wants, so badly, to do something, to help. "I could run you a bath."

Mister Graves' eyes darken and then he flicks his hand out, "Go on then, run me a bath."

He figures out the taps easy enough, sleeves rolled up and kneeling on the tiles he can hear Mister Graves come in behind him, the click of the metal tips on the decorative tiles. He's attentive on reading the arranged bottles but he leans into the touch when Mister Graves tangles a hand into his hair, carding fingers. "The blue bottle, just a few drops." Mister Graves directs him and when he's put the oils in he receives a gentle tug to his hair that he interprets as praise.

"Be a good boy; help me with my shoes Credence."

He applies himself to the task of untying the fine leather laces of his brogues, hands oddly steady for how much trembling he feels inside of him.

On the chair beside them he watches out of the corner of his eye suit jacket, waistcoat, tie, shirt, suspenders. When he finally looks up, prompted by Mister Graves' finger drawing up his chin gentle and slow but no less commanding, the bath is filled and the faucet turns off with a flick of Mister Graves' wand. Credence feels the world quake beneath him but it’s all in his head, all in his heart.

"I need you to pray for me Credence."

There is a spread of blood, the palest pink under Mister Graves' undershirt. He raises his hands, pushes the cloth up, over hard muscles and dark hair, his thumb brushes against the puckered wound, Mister Graves' tightens his grip again in Credence’s hair.

Around the wound is the faintest spider web of black, veins that stretch out just the slightest. In the dark of the pit Credence had seen nothing more than dried blood, crusted with infection. It's all clean now, and the wound isn't inflamed, well on the way to healing. He doesn't know what Mister Graves wants him to pray for, but he thinks maybe magic is like prayer, all intent and belief.

The lingering curse just under the skin and Credence pushes the shirt further up, registering the hitch of Mister Graves' breath, the deepening of his breathing. Three points, Credence drags his hand over all three, tall enough to reach even the one that had broken the man's collarbone.

"Credence." Mister Graves' voice is so deep, so breathless, and it sounds pained, so Credence prays for relief.

The Obscurus is strange to see, flickering against his hand like that, smoke without a fire, it's noise and pain, but Mister Graves isn't afraid of his white-ghost eyes. "Fuck." Mister Graves groans.

Credence draws the poison out of him, the Obscurus devours it. It's a good prayer; Mister Graves is clean of the lingering curse when Credence stands.

Mister Graves still has his hand in Credence's hair, grip loose, his weight taken by the sink where he's braced, wand between porcelain and his fist. "Go, go get my bathrobe. Leave it on the table outside."

Credence's head is dropped, his limbs feel loose, and his head so clear, a pain in his chest he hadn't noticed till it was gone has freed the cage of his bones, his heart beats unhindered. "Yes sir." He almost slurs, he feels drunk on the hand in his hair, the whole moment.

"Go read in the sitting room, I'll come get you when I'm done."

"Yes sir." Credence draws away only when he's pushed, gentle command, he can hear Mister Graves cursing under his breath when he closes the door, but it doesn't worry him as it had before.

He finds the bathrobe over a chair and the painting of a dog that barks at him when he enters doesn't even startle him. He feels like he's been hollowed out, yearns for the embrace of Mister Graves' arms from the park, but even recalling that doesn't bring with it the guilt it should. He lays the robe on the table to the sound of water moving around.

He toes out of his shoes and curls up on the sofa with the book, but he isn't focusing, head drifting down till it is rested against the arm of the sofa. The room still smells of the odd herbal spice, he closes his eyes for just a little, he's never felt safer.

A shake to his shoulder has him awakening and he curls upward, sitting half hunched, the book plucked from his fingers by Mister Graves. "Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep." When he looks up Mister Graves is looking at him with a strange half-guarded curiosity. "I'm sorry? Is, did I do something wrong?"

He starts a little when Mister Graves tangles his hand in a lock of hair, his hair, long enough to brush his cheeks; Credence widens his eyes in startled shock. "A simpler charm, growing out one's hair." Mister Graves explains softly, "It suits you."

He stares at it in the mirror when he's supposed to be getting ready for bed. Ma had always kept his hair so short; vanity was a sin and even worse was uncleanliness. It's dark around his face and not common to the popular style at all. Soft waves and a few unruly curls and it is long enough to cover his face completely if he shifts his head forward.

Mister Graves would have more to grab, to hold, to find purchase in, to guide him to be good. Credence braces himself against the basin, eyes flashing dark, and then white, the emotions singularly terrifying in the hollow of his chest.

This isn't lust no, terrible and wonderful at the same time; his body doesn't hunger as much as his heart does. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

He knows why the Obscurus isn't a danger to Mister Graves, knows in this how wicked he is, the sinful nature of his heart. He loves the man, couldn't live without him, the Obcurus knows.

He should find gladness in his heart, to apply himself to the task, to love as selflessly as he should. Instead he can only think how it will hurt if they're parted, how the very nature of their relationship is founded on his danger in the eyes of the MACUSA leadership, how he's dangerous to Mister Graves not for the obscurus inside him but for all those who wanted access to it.

It would have been better for him to fade away, to die, to be a wisp forever, a whippoorwill come to take his soul away.

"Credence?" Mister Graves draws him from his own fears, and he dresses quickly in his pajamas.

"Almost ready Mister Graves." He can't help the breathless sound to his voice, he wonders if there is anything in the medicine cabinet for a broken heart. "Sorry Mister Graves."

He's caught up in warm arms when he exits, the scent of bath oils on Mister Graves' skin, "No need for apologies." It's a decadent drawl, as smoky as the cigarette's trail, as the Obscurus itself, "Come give us our prayer."

Mister Graves tucks him in, light blanket over his hip, kneels by the bedside again, and Credence watches their hands come together, captured and held.

"My dear Lord, who knows the truth of our hearts, Lord who sees the impurity in the corruption of our worldly desires. Let us desire nothing so much as Your good works and Your love. Let Your love shine through us, give to us the strength to live for you, to be alike in our desires and desire only to be likened to thee."

Mister Graves presses his lips to Credence's knuckles again, a soft whisper of wordless affirmation, Credence feels his breath hot against their joined hands and he curls up close, so that he's almost cheek to cheek with Mister Graves.

"Good Lord who sees in us our bodily faults, make us holy. Let us rise up near to You in our daily war, let us writhe, let us beg, let us please You, let us pant from the excursion of our fight against sin."

"Christ." Mister Graves shivers out the holy name, eyes shut tight, and Credence presses a chaste kiss to his temple.

"Wrap us in Your divinity, keep us ever desiring of Your goodness. Find us here Your obedient servants loving of you, burn from us the sin, let us be the crucible, and cast us into the furnace should we be lost. Oh God, help us to keep close to thee."

"Amen." Credence says it against Mister Graves' temple, another chaste kiss.

"Amen." Mister Graves chokes, the adulation ripped out of him deep and rapturous.

Pausing at the door Mister Graves dims the lights and Credence watches him from the darkness, the broad silhouette of him in the doorway. "If you have nightmares there's a bottle on the table outside your room, it should help you sleep without them, don't use it if you don't need to."

"Yes sir, Mister Graves."

"We'll sleep in a bit tomorrow; our appointment at Jonkers isn't until noon."

"Yes sir." Credence murmurs, feeling weighed down by the soft weight of his comforter, the idling of Mister Graves in the doorway.

"Sleep well Credence."

He's drifting, but he manages to return the sentiment before the door is shut, and the last thing he hears before sleep comes for him with open arms is the sound of a very gentle thud against the door and a very faint groan.

Chapter Text

Credence dreams of smoke, or he dreams he is smoke, falling from Mister Graves' parted lips, dragged in and held safe in his lungs, in the center of his chest, bracketed by the prison of his ribs, before he's released into the air. He yearns, twisting and dissipating, to be consumed again, held safe.

Credence dreams of warm hands, against his back, in his hair, wet grass under his hands. His own groan of pleasure catches him off guard. This time no one calls them inverts and Mister Graves breathes him in, puts his lips over Credence's and consumes him.

Credence dreams of the sofa in Mister Graves' office, only it's more plant than place to sit, the aloe leaves are so tall they stretch up, pushing the ceiling out of place, above is the night sky, brilliant and bright. Queenie laughs and kisses his cheek, "Sweetie, gold is your color, of course."

Credence dreams of Mister Graves' wand in his own hands but they're torn from Ma's punishments, he leaves blood on the dark ebony wood.

He wakes up to the sound of birdsong, soft, to light falling across his outstretched hands, softer still. He can see on his skin where his sleeve has ridden up the legacy of pain his Ma left him with. Scars heavy and light that stitch across his pale skin and maybe for the first time he feels he didn't deserve them.

Not for being a witch at least, or a wizard in his case, because magic isn't so black and white, so cut and dry as that, maybe. He's not sure. But Mister Graves is something good to him, something to love, Mister Graves doesn't deserve to be hunted because he can turn into an animal or make water into wine. So maybe he didn't deserve to be turned into this thing he is, all the magic in him bundled up into a monster of pain and suffering.

Despite telling Credence to sleep in Mister Graves himself is already awake, sitting at the kitchen table with The New York Ghost and a mug of coffee. His dress shirt stretched tight across the broad width of his shoulders, his wand set on the table beside his mug, holster not yet on. "G'morning Credence. Some orange juice for you in the cold box."

Credence tilts his head; his fingers catching at the door jam, his hair brushes his cheek and startles him, "What kind of animal can you turn into?"

Mister Graves snorts a sound of amusement. "Crow."

Credence smiles, soft and gentle, it feels strange on his face, "That's wonderful."

"You wouldn't believe the teasing I used to get, something seemingly comical about an awkward twenty something named Graves turning into a crow, there was some confusion on the genus, the common wizard cannot decipher the difference between a crow and a raven."

"What is the difference?"

"Tail shape and size mostly, now you see a crow they've got a tail that fans like a deck of cards." Mister Graves holds his hand up fingers pressed together but then he fans them out to equal distance.

"In contrast," and here Mister Graves put his hand back together, the shape blunt and tight, a wedge just subtly curved inward, "A raven has a tail that is wedge-shaped." His lips quirked, "Your Ma let you read things other than the Bible?"

"No sir."

Mister Graves looks amused, "Run along into my study, on the bookshelf behind my desk is a collection of no-maj works, you'll see one with the title Collected Works of Poe grab that, we'll supplement your education with some higher learning."

Credence fetches the book and tucks it into his bag as directed; he follows along behind Mister Graves as the man finishes his preparations for the day. Curiously studying the picture of the dog, not a mutt as most of the dogs Credence had encountered in the past, it had a noble bearing and barked sharply but not viciously when Mister Graves began to move things around.

"That's Cocoa, he was my great grandmother's dog. Whom tales tell she loved more than her own children."

"Can the paintings understand us?"

Mister Graves draws on his waistcoat, leaving it open he surveyed in his closet an arrangement of ties that mostly looked alike to Credence but that he was sure had subtle variations only Mister Graves could see. "In a way, they can be taught phrases and slips of personality, but it's not true life, not really. Although," Mister Graves pauses then in his ministrations of pulling on his tie, "You know the portrait of the little girl in the dining room?"

Credence nods, remembering her laughter, her following eyes.

"That's my Great Aunt Zelda, the portrait was painted when she was very young, and her entire long life she kept it with her through her travels abroad and taught it from herself. Kept touching up the background too, I suppose that kept the enchantments fresh, allowed her portrait to continue to grow." He shrugs into his suit jacket. "She can hold quite an animated conversation when she feels like it. She was very proud of me when I dissolved the estate after Europe."

Credence studies the painting of the dog, its tail wagging as if expecting a treat, "Good boy, Cocoa." He murmurs and smiles when the dog jumps up and barks, turning in a circle a few times after.

"Mister Graves?" Credence watches the man put on his lapel pins carefully, studying his reflection in the dressing mirror as Mister Graves studied himself in turn, he only started a little when Mister Graves' lifts his gaze to match Credence's in the mirror.

"Yes Credence?"

"I do not wish to be too forward."

A quirk of the lips, not amusement but something maybe sad crossed Mister Graves' face, "Please, be more forward. Take advantage, if I could only hope so much."

Credence flushes, "Mister Graves, you are very different, now, aren't you?"

Mister Graves pats down his holster in the mirror, studies himself critically, "You mean from before he became me?"

"No one noticed, that it wasn't you, no one realized, and you're so different."

Mister Graves lets out a steady breath drawn from him almost painfully, shoulders drawing inward and his weight is taken by the chair before his dressing mirror. "A conscious choice; After Europe I was, as I told you I didn't stop long enough to see I was lonely, and I didn't stop long enough to be kind either."

"You were kind to me."

Mister Graves looks at him sharply, "Credence I was a bastard to you, I left you in that place, left all those children there, even though it was clear to me from the start and Tina too, that you were of magical heritage and I could have done something for you at least. Your Bible has something about that I'm sure."

Galatians 6:2. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

But that went both ways, "You are very kind to me now, that's what matters."

"I didn't let people back in after Europe." The war, after the war, and he'd been suffering in his turning silence since then and Credence can feel that turning guilt, that endless loneliness, and he can feel it in himself mirrored here, manic under the pristine veneer of control and command Mister Graves dominated a room with and he loved more than he had loved the night before, "He got to me, got into me because I pushed people away." Mister Graves was ever calculating, all of this another layer of protection, giving himself away in parts so that he couldn't be used as a mask again.

"I'll keep you safe."

"Circe's smile, Credence c'mere." Mister Graves reaches out an arm and Credence is obedient, folds himself up in the half embrace, and watches in the mirror as his hands are pinned between them, as Mister Graves presses a kiss to his hair. He likes the way they fit together in the mirror, lips quirking into a smile that looks alien on his new face, framed carefully by his hair.

He looks like a wizard.

Mister Graves' hands shake a little when he parts them, fixes Credence's clothing, makes him presentable, and Credence hangs on the pressure of his hands, eyes maybe too bright, too intensely focused, so that Mister Graves smiles at him a half smile and brushes his thumb against Credence's lower lip before parting and Credence feels like he's floating after him, all the way down the elevator and outside.

When they apparate Credence doesn't feel the aftershock hardly at all, and he finds himself hungry, buoyant with it, but he still can't bring himself to consider more smoked fish.

"In the index you'll find a poem called The Raven, read that one first." Mister Graves assigns him his lesson, although he now considers perhaps these are lighter suggestions. It's a startling feeling of freedom he's never considered before, be more forward, take advantage.

"I will sir." He promises and shivers when Mister Graves strokes a line against his back, a reward for his obedience.

The diner isn't like the one from the day before, when they enter it's more like the bookshop, the silence that descends with the inside different than the outside by far, brick flooring instead of tile or stone, and the benches are all in wood with metal finish. What more the patrons were dressed far more elaborately in their working class attire, wizards and witches in bright patterns and hues, with the wait staff flicking wands to help deliver trays, refill cups, and clean up after departing patrons.

"MACUSA? Your tables over there!" A demanding looking older witch directs them and Credence presses closer to Mister Graves as he leads them through the flickering lantern lights, skirting around a broom sweeping of its own volition.

"Director Graves." The table was wide, and the witch to greet them is one Credence recognizes, it's the woman who had given him the odd medical examination when he'd been first brought in. Emblazoned on the table under various plates and mugs are the words Acta Non Verba burned into the very wood. He sits when Mister Graves pulls a chair out for him, "Credence Barebone." She greets next and the gathered all parrot various salutations.

"Healer Monroe, how's the coffee this morning?"

"Fuckin' sludge."

"So just how we like it?" Mister Graves receives a toast, with coffee mugs, Credence suspects something bracing is in some of these mugs, it's a cold morning and everyone is more cheerful than one would suspect.

Credence listens to the chatter around him, various cases being described, Mister Graves giving advice when prompted, and Healer Monroe complaining about the post-mortem work she'd been doing until the wee hours of the morning.

"Not too grave a conversation for you is it?" Mister Graves leans into him, whispering just loud enough for Credence to hear.

"Caw, caw." Credence tries, and it rings true, Mister Graves barking out a laugh, eyes wide.

Everyone in the diner gets the same dish it seems, or it's just the MACUSA table but it's a setup Credence is far more familiar with. A large dish set in the middle and everyone helping themselves, bickering over helpings and seconds, over the pot of coffee and the sugar dish. The addition was gentle stinging hexes to replace kicked shins. Mister Graves makes his plate for him and hands it over, eggs and bacon, a full sausage.

"Don't let Graves push you around kid," Healer Monroe addresses him, "If you're not careful you'll end up an Auror and they're the worst."

A chorus of discord washes over the table from various directions.

"I'm not sure I'll end up anything, really." Credence murmurs, self-consciously.

"Stop bothering my ward." Mister Graves directs but only gets a few chuckles. No one here seems overly concerned with the fact that the director had been replaced with an imposter or that Credence was afflicted with a parasitical magical life-force, they mostly seemed concerned with getting enough coffee.

Within a few bites Credence was being 'bothered' again, this time peppered with questions about what spells he was working on first.

"I, well, um," Credence flounders but Mister Graves has his lips conveniently to his mug, leaving Credence to tread water on his own, he takes a steadying breath, "I haven't learned any magic yet, we're going, we're going to g-get a wand today."

"Not entirely true, he managed some wandless magic, and drew a curse out of someone." Mister Graves corrects him.

Healer Monroe narrows her eyes, "And that someone, I take it he'll think he doesn't need to come around for a checkup then."

Mister Graves frowns, "I'll inform them their appointment is still scheduled."

"Director Graves, did you hear about the body they found over in Jersey this morning?"

"Head Auror Graves, actually." Graves corrected, "And if you don't start tacking Director on to Lopez' name we're going to have words." He frowned, "There wasn't anything in The Ghost about it, I'm out of the office today, someone give me the cliffnotes."

A few voices started talking over each other but they were beat out by a young woman, bright blonde hair and a scar that segmented her otherwise lovely face, "No-maj found a police officer hung up and burned on a pike when they went to walk their dog, would have been their problem but when the no-maj were combing the area they tripped off a perimeter curse, had everyone trying to tear each other apart."

"Who’s on it?" Graves sips his coffee, looking composed and only interested in a superficial way but Credence's heart is beating fast enough to hurt, words sticking into him as sharp as thorns, a park in Jersey, a lone police officer.

"Barclay."

"Tell Barclay he's got Goldstein's case; inform her I want direct reports." Mister Graves finishes his coffee, throat working around the third a mug, Credence averts his eyes because the last thing he needs is a table full of magical police officers seeing how lascivious he is over the man who has been nothing but kind and protective of him. "Ready to get a wand Credence?"

Credence nods, scrambling up after him, "It was nice to meet you all." He manages to push out and the chorus of farewells is deafening.

"Mister Graves," Credence starts when they’re outside but the hand is already at his back and Mister Graves is nodding, speaking over him.

"I don't know yet, it's highly suspect though isn't it?"

"Does that sort of thing happen often?"

"It used to happen far less."

Credence considers why it's happening more, and his stomach turns, he had been so beguiled and Ma had been right about witches in one aspect, but it hadn't been magic that had held Credence on every asp venom word, every promise, and he can see a life where it's a different hand on his back, no different for impression but a world separate from intention. Working against everything Mister Graves held sacred and his own hands clutch hard against bag strap, breath stilling to deliberation, they pass the street and when Mister Graves helps him up the curb Credence nods to himself.

He'll never be used as a tool, never be manipulated, he doesn't belong in that vision, in that false prophecy, he belongs right here. "We could hold on getting my wand, sir. I understand this is important."

Mister Graves shakes his head, "I don't break promises. Wand, and then if we have time we'll stick our noses into things."

In the life before this one, before half a dozen wands had reduced Credence, as the Obscururs, into wisps and impressions, in the life where he followed in the shade of Ma's footsteps ever obedient but never obedient enough, Credence never would have dared step foot in a department store like this one. Mister Graves pushes him gently through the trembling wonder of the open doors, the bright displays.

For half a second Credence considers that the Macy's would have a stand of wands on sale just like scarves or imported perfume, like arrow collar shirts or hosiery. Of course the truth is far more spectacular. Mister Graves weaves them through the crowds shopping decadent aisles and into a maintenance corridor.

It is only the extreme trust and dedication Credence has in the man and the hand at his back that allows him to walk headlong into a brick wall.

They come out into a lane, brilliantly decorated for the holidays, paper flowers blooming on wreathes, enchanted metal birds flitting around the decora. Instead of a department store they're in an alley, not so narrow but made tighter by the abundance of people shopping at carts and dipping in and out of the shops stretching onward. "Okay there Credence?" Mister Graves asks.

Credence takes a bracing breath, "Yes sir." He knows Mister Graves understands by the stroke along his spine, it's all so wonderful.

The roof overhead is enchanted, brickwork displaying the sunny sky overhead, the tips of skyscrapers showing through with the shadow of the individuals stones. Credence has to remember to keep breathing as Mister Graves navigates them through the crowd.

A witch tries to sell them love potions (fake, Mister Graves makes sure), another tries to sell them chrysanthemum tea with toad eggs in the bottom, a wizard with a display of enchanted scarves smiles and offers them a discount. Mister Graves keeps them on target, effective at times only because he has a presence strict enough to move people out of his way.

The shopfront they come to eventually has no window display, the door is wooden with an opaque window in the middle upon which golden letters say Johanne Jonker's Practical Wands and Credence feels the breath shudder out of him when they step inside.

Stacked from floor to ceiling are so many boxes, width wise not very big but ranging in all lengths. None were more distinguished than the other, and only age perhaps had changed the color of each box from its original light orange. The shop had a similar presence to the bookstore they'd gone into yesterday, a soft stillness with a charged air.

In the dim lantern light of the room stood a counter and beside the counter was a chair and in the chair sat a man older than any man Credence had ever seen but with an air of intelligence in his eyes that made him seem younger inside than even Credence himself now felt.

"Percival Graves, heard some rumors 'bout you."

"Afraid they're probably true Mister Jonkers." The J was pronounced as a Y, Credence noted.

"How's the control?"

Mister Graves stepped forward, allowing Credence to fall behind him, and from his holster he brandished his wand and swished it back and forth slowly, "Not sluggish, quick, I've noticed it's," Mister Graves paused, wisps of opaque pearlescent light swirling in the dim shop before he waved his hand and they dissipated, "More eager, sharper."

"No kickback, ebony wood likes a direct touch; I'd say it's likely just responding to a heightened level of focus in you."

Mister Graves slips his wand back into its holster, patting his robes back over to conceal it, "I've an appointment for someone else though."

Mister Jonkers peers around Mister Graves' hip and gives Credence a surprisingly full smile. "Heard some rumors about you too young man."

Credence manages to find his way to Mister Graves' side on his own, trembling till he grips his hands on his bag strap, "Hello sir."

"Do you know much about wands?"

"I have been told they have something like loyalty, and that they can choose a person. That children that attend Ilvermorny have to leave their wands at school when they return home and that there is an office of wand licensing."

"Very good." Mister Jonkers fixed his spectacles and Credence could see that the man's hands were darkened with wood stain and bent in arthritic angles from years of work, "How old are you?"

"Twenty one."

Mister Jonkers looked thoughtful, "I think you should start in that pile." He swept his hand toward a towering stack of boxes. "Just wiggle the box a bit if it tries to stick."

Credence didn't know where to start but he'd been suitably dismissed and gathered he was supposed to do this part on his own. He took in the tower of boxes where they had accumulated on an aged chair, bent with much weight. He finally selects a box near the top, not wanting to topple the whole stack. The top lifted up with a jiggle and the wand inside was far more ornate than its simple box led one to believe.

It was about the length of Miss Tina's wand but the end he figured was the handle was made of shell, even in the dim light it shone a rainbow finish and looked thick, not brittle as he would have expected, more like Miss Queenie’s wand.

"You take it up and give it a swish." Mister Jonkers took up his own wand, as if preparing for something.

Credence cast his gaze to Mister Graves, who merely gave a nod, his stance at ease, hands in the pockets of his slacks.

The wand felt heavier in his hand than he'd expected it to, he held it as if he expected it to break, and taking a careful breath he shores himself up and swishes it through the air.

The sharp retort is deafening, the wood of the wand splits right up the center line, the mother of pearl cracked in his hand.

He drops the wand, eyes stinging, not from the pain no, a mixture of fear and guilt, his hand is bleeding.

Mister Jonkers flicks his wrist and the wand floated up into the air and over to him while Mister Graves took his hand within his own, Credence's apologies falling over themselves, words mixed up until Mister Graves is shushing him.

The cut stitches clean with nary a scar or scratch.

"I see this is going to be exciting." Mister Jonkers doesn't sound upset, mostly he sounds delighted.

Credence would be too terrified to pick up a second wand but Mister Graves is right there beside him and he doesn't want to disappoint him, so he reaches out with shaking hands while they watch him and he wonders if this is perhaps God, if he's being punished for witchcraft, if he's being punished for other things too.

Proverbs 16:5. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.

He breathes, he will be humble, he will take up the wand, he will serve the Lord in his works, even witchcraft, please, and he pleads to himself and the Lord, please just let me have this.

The wand is a brilliant red, stained almost like wine, there is no shell, it has a measured weight in his hand and the handle is thicker than the end, tapering like a candlestick.

Mister Jonkers tilts his head, "Bloodwood, imported from South America, a pleasing wood to craft with, renowned for its cloying scent when worked. The first wand you tried was rosewood."

"Is this one likely to split up the core too?" Mister Graves asks, less amusement and more steel to his intonation.

Mister Jonkers shrugs.

Credence closes his eyes with a cringe when he swishes the wand, there is another loud snap, but the wand hasn’t cracked, it set itself on fire, and Credence drops it with a yelp, hand lightly scalded. "I'm sorry," a deep sob and Mister Graves is pressing a kiss to his knuckles, a stroke over the burn, "I'm broken, I'm ruining everything."

This wand floated up too with a flick of Mister Jonker's wand. "How many spells have you done in your whole life child?"

"I, I don't, I'm not sure." Credence isn't even sure if he grew out his hair, isn't sure of anything. "The Obscurus has done most of it I think." Or all of it, his hopelessness threatens to swallow him; Mister Graves squeezes his wrist and then steps back. He feels humiliation, feels the desire to stop to give up swelling inside of him, but Mister Graves wanted him to have a wand.

Mister Jonkers taps his wand against his blanket covered knee, studying them both now, and Credence felt momentarily terrified the man would say something about their closeness, how Mister Graves' had healed him each time, Credence can clearly see how it looks. How it had looked last night, but the wandmaker merely points toward another stack.

"That box at the very bottom." He directs and then redirects when Credence tries in vain to pinpoint the exact box, finally they manage directions and awkward searching and Credence pulls from the precarious stack a long box, in which he finds a wand as darkly stained as Mister Graves’.

"You've held ebony before, haven't you?" Mister Jonkers asks and Credence lifts the wand free from the box, feeling in it the familiar cold regard he had when holding Mister Graves' wand but no connection, no true lasting familiarity.

"It was different."

"Swish a little gentler."

He does, the barest swipe, like a single twitch of the hand. Another crack like lightning and a whole chair plied with wands topples over, boxes rolling every which way with the impact. Mister Jonkers righted them all with another flick of the wrist.

"Not that one no, but you have a stunning capacity for curse and hex work."

Credence puts the wand back in the box with a swiftly breaking heart. It was the last of what he wanted to hear, the last of it, and if the only magic he'd be able to do was destructive, then what use was it learning to do magic at all?

"That disappoints you?" Mister Jonkers asks. "Percival was likewise if I do remember, you threw a fit over your ebony wand."

Mister Graves laughs softly, patting his holster, "We've gotten used to each other. I hadn't quite gathered how much dark art was in defending against them."

"Hm, not ebony no but, allow me to make another personal choice." To this Mister Jonkers finally stands up from his chair and summons a walking stick to himself; he beckons them to follow him, past the towering stacks.

Further into the shop they trail and then back through a closed door. The workroom of the shop is well lit, filled with dust and wood working tools. A lathe with a kick pedal is set up with a wand partway in production. On a chair lay a very, very, large tabby cat, and it stretched and peered up at them before curling back away from them. Mister Graves eyes the cat but let it be.

Mister Jonkers puttered with something at the table before turning. It was the most rudimentary creation, largely unworked wood, unfinished or sealed, inside was a narrow shaft and within that was a tuft of fur. "The smallest flick." He directs.

Credence taps his hand just so to the left. Sparks flew in a brilliant arc, the fur burned right out of the tip.

Mister Jonkers smils brightly, even though Credence could only see this as another failure, "Hawthorn. It was the ebony that gave it away really, as familiar with curses as your distaste for them, contradiction of the heart. With the knowledge of life behind you and yet a journey still ahead; Hawthorn wands are as suited for healing as they are for hurting."

"I set the fur on fire."

Mister Jonkers nods, "Well that is unfortunate, I don't think you're suited to wampus fur, I craft a few different cores to send up to Ilvermorny but I don't keep them stocked in shop, we don't do wand ceremonies here, no reason for me to keep more than my primary trade."

"You don't have anything lying around with a different core?" Mister Graves sounds exasperated, "You've got thousands of wands in this place."

"That we import all over the world for purveyors of the finest wampus cat fur core wands." Mister Jonker's voice is soothing and he doesn’t seem bothered by the criticism much. "But as such I know where you can go, let me find my calling cards."

Moving a great many things around Mister Jonkers left them to come closer together again, and Mister Graves took the wood from Credence's hands to investigate it. "Never could figure out how they plug them up again." He murmurs perhaps more to himself.

"Ah ha!" Mister Jonkers pulls out an aged card with paper lace tacked around it. He brandishes it out to Mister Graves and takes the unworked wood from him, "Now if you'll excuse me it's the wrong time of year for this excitement, I'm going to take a nap."

Mister Graves looks over the card, "You mean for us to go all the way to West Virginia?"

Mister Jonkers shrugs, "Up to you." He had a surprisingly strong push, even Mister Graves trips forward.

"I'm sending someone to investigate that cat for kneazle blood." Mister Graves bites out when they are being expelled back out into the street.

"Have a nice trip." Mister Jonkers pats Credence on the shoulder and then shuts the door. It wasn't even noon yet but the sign flipped over from Open to Closed.

"I'm sorry." Credence whispers, morose.

Mister Graves stares at the door, seemingly lost in thought; he looks down at the brittle card in his hand and narrows his eyes, "We'll take a portkey."

"What?" Credence blinks.

"It's like apparition but better for longer distances, more stable, and while I'm a strong practitioner of side-along I'm not about to try going states away with you on my arm, you might end up losing yours."

Credence starts, "You can lose limbs?"

"Unfortunately, yes. It's called splinching, seen a wizard try to miss some shelling in Europe, ended up losing half of his right leg anyway."

"Mister Graves? I don't want to be a trouble to you."

Mister Graves tucks the card into his suit jacket, "I've gone much further in a day, Director of Magical Law Enforcement and Security means the whole of the United States. We'll just go to the Travel Department and I'll bother someone into setting up a personal portkey."

Credence had decided he wasn't going to ask what a portkey was; he'd just look it up in his supplementary book as soon as he could.

He gets his chance to look it up after Mister Graves apparates them to the Travel Department, which is to Credence's great surprise a mirror of Grand Central Station, somehow tucked into an impossible space off a broom closet in the actual station. Mister Graves had left him on a bench next to an elderly witch with several stuffed pigeons on her clothing and a rather large family of seven, speaking in thick Irish accents about the best way to take in the city without having to transfer too many of their knuts.

He can see Mister Graves every time he looks up, creeping a little bit at a time through the line. At the far end of its coiling body he can see a sign that says "Portkey Office" in intricate typeface. He's almost through with the definition article when a pair of elaborate shoes step into his line of sight, just over the edge of his book. His stomach is turning before he even manages to look up all the way, something internally stopping his gaze at chest height.

"Credence, it is Credence, isn't it?" Congressman Day sounds very pleased to see him.

Credence nods, casting his glance up but he can't see around the man, who is blocking his line of sight from Mister Graves.

"Are you traveling out of the city?" Congressman Day sounds if anything, kind, animated in a strange soothing way, except well, Credence remembers the cold intonation over my dead body and his loyalty has been given already. He can see how perhaps this might also be against the wishes of Congress, who in Mister Graves' own words would likely rather see Credence locked up in a room somewhere rather than zipping all over the country.

Credence has an existential crisis of faith. Lying is wrong, a sin, betraying Mister Graves is very wrong and staying silent is both.

Which is why he's terribly shocked when the witch with all the pigeons strikes out with her cane and whacks Congressman Day against the hip. It's a paltry blow but it startles him into a yelp, which attracts the attention of everyone else.

"Putting an evil eye on m'birds!"

"Good woman I have no interest in your taxidermy!"

She goes to hit him again but he steps out of the way and draws his wand on her, which is when Credence stands and clutching his book to his chest blocks her from him. He's breathing hard, terrified, but everything is still, and the only noise he can hear is the tap clack tap of metal on marble and then the slide of Mister Graves' body between him and the congressman.

"Felix, whatcha' doin?" Mister Graves' voice is all teeth, a frenzy Credence can hear rather than see one because he's behind the man and two because he has his eyes shut as tight as he can.

"You've always been a bully, Percival. I'm checking on the boy."

"With your wand drawn."

There is a sound like wood sliding against leather, "Enjoy your trip."

Retreating footsteps, and more, the Irish family is gone, Credence rests his forehead ever so gently against Mister Graves' back, feels him stiffen and then relax.

Mister Graves turns, one arm bracing him, and just like that what attention they've drawn breaks.

"Director Graves, I thought I'd look after him for you." The elderly woman says, and raises her trembling hands to fix her bonnet.

"How's Transit going today?" Mister Graves strokes a slow line down his spine, gentling in as appropriate a manner he can apply.

"Not much excitement, had someone break up over there by the water fountain though, happens more the closer we get to February."

Graves makes a sound of amusement, "Keep up the good work Emmy."

Credence waves a timid farewell and blinks in shock as one of the pigeons achieves flight, lifting up from her shawl to flutter through the great shafts of light overhead.

"Emmy is technically retired," Mister Graves explains as they make their way toward another queue, this one far shorter, "But after her retirement party fifteen years ago she just kept coming in every day. Best informant when it comes to tracking a person's transit habits. No one pays much attention to the elderly lady with all the pigeons."

"Mister Graves he was going to hurt her." Credence is still trembling, can feel it in his bones.

"It's done now Credence, you did a very good job." The pitch of his voice is soft and low, the long stroke of his hand calming, "You're a very brave boy." Next is a squeeze of the hand against his shoulder to quell the trembling in him. "Let’s get you your wand."

"Yes sir." He whispers, breathing shallow.

Chapter Text

The portkey isn't an inconsequential object as the book described, if only because it's been set up to go straight to another station. It is instead a metal ring, and they grasp it together, Mister Graves leading his hand to it. The change is immediate, least of which the quality of light in the room, but also the humidity: the weight of his clothing is heavier, his hair frizzes before they've even stepped out into the vastly smaller station.

It's also quite understaffed in comparison. A singular woman reading a romance novel glances up at them, eying their clothing with an air of excitement as they step out of the room. "We'll be needing a return trip." Mister Graves fills out a paper she slips him, the quill's ragged end bobbing with the flourish of his cursive script.

"You sure are fancy." She addresses Credence, who turns inward, hair hanging down in his face. "Awe, and bashful too." She giggles, "I'll be seeing you then!"

Mister Graves slips his hand to guide Credence, rising from his lower spine to a place between his shoulder blades. He's silent all the way down the hall away from the primary station building, an outdoor train station, Credence discovers, and the tension builds until Credence shudders and remembers, take advantage.

"Have I upset you?"

"No, Credence," Mister Graves keeps them walking till they meet the station platform and follow it along to the right for a time, "You realize she was flirting with you?"

Credence glances back at the station with a look of horror he cannot even try to hide. "No."

A snort of amusement comes from his side.

"I, I don't have time for the Devil's temptations, Mister Graves." Oh what a terrible man he is; he shivers at the swirl of fingertips against his shoulder. It feels like praise, but then again, it always does.

Mister Graves helps him off the station platform and they cross the street, now following the main thoroughfare. Credence has never been anywhere so quiet. He can't hear traffic or crowds, can't hear the industry of business. All he can hear is the gravel crunch under their shoes and the sounds of Mister Graves' robes swishing in the light breeze.

The shops are mostly closed too; Credence peers in at them to only see darkened displays. "Where is everyone?"

"At church I suppose, it's Sunday."

The explanation strikes Credence through. He trips in his walking and only Mister Graves' hand catching at his arm keeps him from falling flat. He's terrible, worse than he'd even thought himself to be, and the sick feeling spins around in his stomach. He feels hot and cold all at once. Ma would whip him till he couldn't sit for a week; missing Bible study was one thing, but not going to church on the holy day? What’s more, working on that day you put aside to give the Lord praise?

He doesn't actually hear Mister Graves till they're in the back of someone's work yard, tools left alone for the day, a high fence surrounding them. "Credence." Mister Graves is cupping his face in both hands.

The Obscurus breathes in with him, settles inside of him, and his eyes bleed black again. He goes to hand Ma his belt, but he's not wearing one, and Mister Graves is still holding him still. "That's my boy, breathe with me, sweetheart."

Credence follows the slow inhale and exhale. Minutes tick by, and the nausea passes somewhat, "I've, I've never not been in church on Sunday, Mister Graves."

"I gathered. You want to go now?"

He genuinely considers this, but also thinks of the congregation; they were Ma's people. He feels sick again – witch, wizard, magic in his blood, going to get a wand on the holy day. "No sir."

The embrace is slow, an arm around his back, a hand in his hair. Mister Graves' cologne is sharp, and he presses his face against the man's neck and they breathe together. "I," Mister Graves swallows, "Someone taught me this, taught me to breathe, when it was too much."

"In Europe?" Credence whispers. There isn't anyone to hear them, he's sure, it's so still here, so quiet, all he can hear is birds and those are some distance away.

"They don't really get it, they try. Let you draw away because what can they do? They weren't there, and they don't really understand. There isn't a potion you can take, so most of us in the department, we know, we have our vices. Maybe someone drinks a little bit before they head to work; maybe someone has a girl on the side." Mister Graves gently presses a kiss to Credence's temple, still locked together in someone's backyard, as terribly compromising as they'd been last night, and Credence would pray that they don't have a repeat, but that's worse than the sin itself.

"W-what do you have?" Credence asks softly.

Mister Graves draws back, hands slow as molasses in the winter, dragging through Credence's hair, against his hip, "How are you feeling, Credence?"

"Better, I think." Soft and submissive, but he doesn't feel at all like he did before, put in his place by His cold disdain or Ma's sick-sweet reprimands.

Mister Graves takes out his wand and casts a disillusionment charm on the both of them, and they cut through backyards and a section of the woods, looking down at the card every so often, which has begun spelling out directions on the back. An enchantment, Mister Graves explains, and one he hopes is still accurate.

After a good deal of walking, enough for Credence to quietly get over the majority of his panic and slip into silent self-hatred and guilt, they come to a stone cottage with a traditional thatched roof. Credence has never in his life seen something like this before, at least outside of wood carvings. There is a little gate in a low stone fence, and within the yard are more cats than even the colony that hung around the butcher's shop across from the street corner where Ma gave sermons on every other Thursday.

There is only one thing betraying the cottage as something other than a house, which is a large display window in which stands a beautiful looking broom, spectacular in size and the cleanliness of its brush. Mister Graves peers at it speculatively before reaching out to use the knocker, but before he can grasp it the door has opened on its own.

Inside are even more brooms and Credence realizes with a jolt of excitement that these brooms aren't meant for sweeping a floor. It's so clear to him: how carefully crafted they are, the woodwork and the care in their bristle brushes; and some of them even have a saddle-like attachment, and what Credence figures are metal loops to rest your feet. The scent of cinnamon permeates the air, almost overpowering and delightful. He had somehow thought Ma had been wrong; it just didn't make sense for someone to ride around on a broom, and how could that ever be real?

Mister Graves looks around with idle curiosity. The shop isn't darkened, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Together they step up to the counter with its ornate silver and copper cash register, next to which was a small bronze bell. Mister Graves rings it twice, and they can hear from the open door to the back room a sudden jolting of wood against wood and then a sharp yelp followed by a crashing sound.

Within the minute a young man has come out, his face flushed and dark hair in disarray. Like the attendant at the station he seems entranced by their clothing, his own nothing more than a collarless shirt and a pair of slacks with patches at the knees. He looks a year or so younger than Credence and it shows.

"Are you here to buy a broom?" He sounds borderline terrified.

"Actually I'm here to buy a wand." At this Mister Graves produces the calling card and holds it out to the attendant, who looks at it and then hands it back cautiously.

"I better go get my ma then."

Mister Graves nods, and the boy is gone, back through the door and then up a flight of stairs if the sound of trudging feet overhead is any indication. "I have a feeling we're a few years late for Lavender's Fine and Handy Wands, unfortunately."

"The sign in the window said Lovelock's Brooms I think."

"Too bad I'm not in the market to buy a broom, these are some of the best I've seen that weren’t imports from Europe."

"I, they fly, they fly, don't they Mister Graves?" Credence can't help his excitement, barely restrained, even still he sounds breathless like he's been running too fast.

Mister Graves smiles at him, a crescent moon's delicate light; it warms him. "I'll take you up one day. My old broom from school should still carry us both, but we'd have to be far out of the city or I'd end up having to arrest myself for exposure."

Credence is considering begging, his heart beating so fast, when a middle aged woman swishes in. Her skirt drags the ground, her wand tucked into the messiest bun atop her head, keeping it up precariously. "Gentlemen, I heard you got my father's calling card?"

Mister Graves hands it back over.

"My father was dear friends with Mister Jonker and when he passed away he helped us re-purpose into a broomery. I can't imagine he forgot we don't sell wands anymore, so I think he means for me to show you the Esoteria." She beckons them back, through the little flap door and then into the back room where her son is sitting next to a radio, a jar of wood polish and a rag in hand.

They go up a set of very narrow steps together and then into a small room, dim save for a single tiny window. Arranged in a glass fronted curios cabinet were more paper boxes, just as there had been in Jonker's wand shop, but these boxes all varied greatly in color. Altogether, Credence can see about a hundred in estimate, and a fine layer of dust has settled over all of them.

From around her waist the woman draws a set of keys, and the smallest of these she uses to unlock the display case. At once, Credence knew he couldn't use any of these wands; he couldn't test them, for they were obviously terribly rare, and he well remembered the destruction he'd already rendered to Mister Jonker's wands.

"Mister Graves, I can't." Credence shudders, trips when he is urged forward.

"This is Credence's first wand, as circumstances previously prevented him from attending Ilvermorny to sort his wand there."

"Your son isn't a squib, is he?"

Mister Graves' tone was only the slightest bit chilly, "Credence is my ward, and no, he's perhaps too powerful. Mister Jonker suggested hawthorn wood."

Credence is still frozen, staring at the collected boxes with a heavy heart, so she elbows him out of the way a little to get into the case. "Green boxes," she explains, picking one up, "Are hawthorn. My father only worked with thirteen types of wood: the Celtic calendar. Each period of time corresponded to a different wood. Not the current fashion at all."

"What are the cores?" Mister Graves reaches out to take the box from her, lifting the lid with curiosity. Inside, the wand lays on a bed of satin. The box has lain untouched for so long that their fingerprints stand out in smudges on the paper.

She smiles, a brittle smile, "That's the thing, though, as no one's likely to remember Lavender's wands because my pa never settled on anything. That one's got a coral core," she pointed at another hawthorn box, "That one's harpy wing feather. If you don't specialize in one thing, how's anyone to know what to come to you for? Only business he ever got was other wandmakers or collectors, so these were his pride and joy: The Esoteria, a collection of one of a kind wands, you'll never find another like them."

Mister Graves hands the wand box back to her.

"Mister Graves, I can't." Credence repeats, "They're precious, they're all priceless, I'll ruin them."

Mrs. Lovelock holds the box to her chest, leaving dust trails on her dress. "What's that mean?"

Mister Graves reaches out to draw his hand against Credence's back, "As I said, Credence is powerful. We had some problems with Mister Jonker's wands."

"What kind of problems?"

Credence groans, "I broke them. One of them cracked right in half and one of them caught on fire."

Her alarm is well founded, but Credence still feels desperately guilty for it. They'd come all this way, and if he didn't let down Mister Graves he'd be potentially damaging priceless artifacts left behind by an eccentric wandmaker.

"Then I suppose you need to be very sure about the wand and let it choose you. Mister Jonker said hawthorn, you're sure?" With the nod she gets in answer Mrs. Lovelock takes out all of the green boxes, seven in total, and brings them over to a card table obviously in the room for storage purposes. She opens each box and sets up the wands for viewing.

They were all stained the same way, with different variations in the wood grain and style of the carving. They ranged from well worked and straight to smooth and knotty, curving handles or a shaft like a tree branch. One was carved with decorative vines, a blooming rose on the end of the handle with a pink stone set in the center.

Credence skims his eyes over the display several times until Mister Graves gently pushes him forward again.

They'd come all this way, they'd come all this way on a Sunday, the holiest of days, and he'd caused so much destruction. They'd come all this way from this morning when he'd heard Mister Graves confess his own loneliness to him and Credence had watched them wrap together in the mirror and saw himself and thought wizard, and they'd come so far and he'd hurt so much, been hurt so much. His hand shakes shiver soft and wrecked over the arrangement, and he closes his eyes.

He prays, but it isn’t any word-filled prayer, it isn’t the eloquent prayers Ma had drawn the crowds in with, it is a gentle plea for peace. He had witchcraft in the blood, was born with this sin in his veins, and let the Lord understand he could only be this thing, let him be this thing. Let him take a wand and he'd find a way to serve properly with it. Just let him, please.

The wand is surprisingly cool in his grip, steady and sturdy. He holds it more carefully than he'd even held Mister Graves' wand, but it doesn't seem to mind. He opens his eyes on the swish, and it's the crescent moon curve of Mister Graves' slender smile, an arrangement along the long slender shaft of the wand inlaid with silver moons in their wax and wane. He hadn't seen it before, turned as it was in the box to mask the design.

It rains stars, little pinpoints of light that vanish where they land, a sound like wind chimes.

Mrs. Lovelock gathers the rest of the boxes and begins to put them away. Credence can't stop shaking, the wand sure in his grip.

"What do I owe you?" Mister Graves asks, hands in his pockets casually.

"Come back and buy a broom for him sometime. I think Pa would have been glad just to see one of them get used."

As they're leaving, Credence's wand tucked into the pocket sewn into the inner panel of his robes, Mister Graves pauses them with a hand on Credence's elbow to stand in the doorway. "What's the core of that one?" He asks.

Mrs. Lovelock holds the door for them and they pass through, "Leviathan Moth Feeler. They hang around where curses have been lain into the soil: the kind like 'you hung me for sins I didn't commit, so a plague on you for seven generations' kind of curses. That feeler my father gathered in 1878, the year after the end of the hundred-year curse laid on the area for the murder of Cornstalk over at Fort Randolph. Guess it molted or something." She tentatively pats at her wand, "Revenge or redemption, or maybe it's just that they like it when people get what they deserve."

Credence's fingers draw along the line of his wand where it rests over his heart.

"Thank you Mrs. Lovelock, expect us in a year or so for that broom."

It's quiet along the road back, and now that they’re no longer skirting through people's yards and portions of forest Credence can study the countryside. He never thought he'd ever see it like this, fields that stretched as far as he could see, not a single tall building in sight.

"It's a beautiful wand." Mister Graves is smiling; Credence looks over and it's not on his lips, but it's in his words and the soft honey-warmth of his dark eyes.

"I've never been this happy before, Mister Graves. I'm so scared." He is, he's still trembling with it.

"Just breathe, Credence, we can have this moment, we can take this for ourselves; it is perfectly okay to be happy."

They stop off on their walk back to the station, sitting together on the porch of a neglected farmhouse, no signs of life save the wild kind, and Mister Graves leans back until he's braced against a rickety railing. He holds his arm out, sleeve dangling so that Credence can see the soft cream lining inside. Credence tucks himself into the side offered, settles with the weight that lines his shoulders.

"Can curses really work like that? Curse an entire town?"

Mister Graves makes a thoughtful sound, "Curse work is intricate and nuanced. As children we have a predilection for thinking in black and white, and as we grow older we begin to see the levels of grey, the divisions of morality. What becomes acceptable to one person is morally repugnant to another."

"Like Ma and Witchcraft."

"Like me and your Ma in particular. The way she treated you and the other children is physically sickening to me. But from all I studied her and learned from you about her, she truly believed she could beat the magic out of you."

Credence's hand is still over the shape of his wand, "She didn't, though."

"No, she didn't," Mister Graves ruffles his hair and then lets his hand rest there tangled in it, "So it's possible to curse an entire town. Usually a curse doesn't just break after a hundred years, and it's far more likely that it's just no-maj interpreting misfortunes into their own guilty actions."

"What about the moth?"

Mister Graves snorts, "Credence, I've no idea what you've got in that wand. I've never heard of a Leviathan Moth and you'd have better luck writing to Newt Scamander about that than asking me."

"You're very good at making people think you know what they're talking about."

"Fake it till you make it, my boy."

Mister Graves looks around curiously, and Credence wriggles over away from him to allow the man to stand and investigate the empty yard, the remnants of a family who left behind the evidence of whole lives out to be bleached by the sun. He prowls around the yard like a great cat and Credence remembers Tina's bet, "Mister Graves?"

"Yes, Credence?" He draws his wand and flicks it through the air, Credence recognizing the motions for a disillusionment spell.

"Were you in the Wampus Cat house?"

Mister Graves' lips quirk. "What do you think?"

"Yes?"

"Good, because you're right, and now we're going to have your first charms lesson. C'mere Credence." Mister Graves has a hand in his pocket, coat swept back from his hips, wand grasped easily in his dominant hand. Credence joins him in the overgrown yard, fidgeting with his wand in the effort to pull it from the wand pocket in his robes.

In front of them is a broken bathtub, the metal casing for a horse's carriage, a dollhouse, and a few dozen rusted out tin cans.

"Wingardium Leviosa." Mister Graves intones the spell carefully and demonstrates the wand movement. A tin can rises gracefully into the air from the cracked tub's rim and stays there for the duration Mister Graves keeps active on it.

Credence repeats the words under his breath, thinks on the precise motion of hands.

"Loosen it up from how I do it. Not much, but you're a softer touch, more graceful." Mister Graves takes a step back and the can topples back into the tub, plopping into the gathered rainwater.

Credence remembers the suspension of tiles, the way the brickwork floated around him, the expenditure of his force on the subway and Him. He'd been so angry and so hurt, betrayed. It was his first use of the magic that Mister Graves was showing him now, but this was different.

He looks down at the wand in his hand and he twists it till his pointer finger aligns down the silver engravings.

"You have beautiful stance. Just tip your chin up Credence, align yourself with the intention. Let your body mirror your meaning."

The praise sinks right into him, he whispers the spell and then he intones it with the motion of his wand.

The tin can floats, the rest of the tin cans float, the bathtub floats, the metal carriage creeks twisted metal and upset but floats, the dollhouse floats, a good bit of grass floats; Credence looks over with wide eyes.

Mister Graves floats.

He breaks concentration then and everything drops with a crash except for Mister Graves, who lands elegantly and cat-like on his feet, robe dropping brilliantly around him.

"I'm sorry!" Credence clutches his wand to his chest.

Mister Graves is smiling, barely subdued, lips thin, his eyes are very bright, "That was very good, Credence. I was right though, we're going to have to focus on dampening your spells."

"I made you float, I'm so sorry."

Mister Graves pushes his hand in a dismissive motion, "Let's see it again."

They practice till Credence's breath is coming hard, worse than doing the laundry and taking in the stock of paper, worse than running errands, but far more rewarding for each piece of praise Mister Graves gives him. He's either dizzy from hunger or from the stroke that carries down his spine when Mister Graves finally draws him back.

The carriage splinters into pieces on the last drop. The tin cans have all rolled scattered into the high grass as if in attempts to escape his abuse.

"Lunch time. Let's get back to New York, I don't want to press my luck trying to find a place serving here."

They apparate into the back yard they'd escaped into before and Credence loses his balance, but just as easily it's taken up by Mister Graves.

"Worked you too hard haven’t I?" Mister Graves murmurs apology but Credence shakes his head. "We'll hold off on anything else for a bit, get you practiced on levitation before we move on. You're doing great Credence, I'm so proud of you."

Credence's head spins. Mister Graves is proud of him.

He leans into the man then, till his head is resting on Mister Graves' shoulder and his body is shaking so Mister Graves wraps him up in his arms. Inappropriate, but Credence is swimming in the feeling of grace. "You're proud of me?"

Mister Graves tightens his hold, "That you're still standing, that you've survived all of this, that you've managed to keep going, and what’s more have the bravery to learn magic when so much of it has been used against you. If I could lift you up, if I could show you the way I see you – there is nothing shameful in you, Credence. You're beautiful, your soul is beautiful."

But if only Mister Graves knew, really knew. And he wants to tell him, tied up in his arms between Saturday’s left out laundry on clothes lines, between white picket fences, countryside he never could have seen before, an embrace he never could have imagined. The promised glimpse He gave him that had always been a lie. If Mister Graves knew how twisted up he was inside, he wouldn't be proud.

But he doesn't say that, "I'll be proud of you too."

Mister Graves tightens his hold, "My sweet boy."

"We're still standing." Credence affirms, although he's leaning more than standing, and maybe that's okay for now.

Mister Graves draws away but only to look at him; he doesn't look pained or soft, not particularly neutral, he just looks like himself. "You are certainly putting pressure on me to perform admirably as your guardian."

Credence flushes, his hands are caught up in Mister Graves' lapels and he soothes them down timidly. "You must be hungry, sir."

"Credence, are you using me as an excuse to affirm your own needs?"

A cringe, Credence nods, but Mister Graves just smirks, it sends a thrill up his spine to see it.

"I do love a clever boy; come on then, use me all you want." Mister Graves links their arms together and maneuvers them out of the backyard, and then along onto the road back to the train station.

The attendant giggles again to see them and Credence semi-hides behind Mister Graves. She waves at him as they go into the portkey room. "I suppose," Mister Graves considers, "I've dressed you very sharply. But haven't you ever been flirted with, Credence?"

"To spend time with girls was a temptation, and well, Ma said flirting was the devil's language. A man should save his seed for the marriage bed."

Mister Graves coughs, puts his hand over the portkey and waits for Credence to do the same, "Well, if you ever turned your mind to flirtation I'm sure you'd be eloquent and skilled, if your verbose nature in prayer is any indication. Three, two, one."

Credence feels the familiar air quality of New York flood his lungs and is glad for the labor of breathing as it sinks into him, and also for the overbearing, always-present sounds of traffic, crowds, and the sweet sharp sting of cooler air free of that heavy humidity. "Mister Graves, I don't think I'd be sure if someone was flirting with me."

Mister Graves presses his hand to the small of his back again, "No, I don't think you would. I'll inform you if anyone else tries."

They stop off in the no-maj diner again, and a woman with dark hair and a sweet smile takes on their table, pouring Mister Graves his coffee right away. "Goldie, this is Credence."

"Oh my, are you new in the department?" She settles into the booth next to Credence, giving him a warm smile.

"Credence is under my guardianship, not an auror."

"That's swell; don’t let him boss you around, honey. I turned in my report when they had me come down yesterday, Director Graves, but I got'a copy of it in my bag if you want?" She does not get to sit long, a voice from the kitchen shouts for her and she is back up before Mister Graves could even respond. He takes the bundle of papers and tucks it into his suit jacket regardless when she comes back to present them.

She does not take an order for them, but comes out with two sandwiches with so many fixings Credence can barely fit his mouth around it. From the first bite he finds himself famished, hungrier than he's ever been in his life, and he eats every last bit.

"Ever worked a cipher before Credence?"

"Like what spies use?"

Mister Graves nods.

"Subterfuge is for people with sins to hide."

A snort of amusement into his cup of coffee, and Mister Graves shakes his head, "Did your Ma let you do anything fun ever?"

Credence actually has to consider this. He feels guilty that it's hard for him to drag up a good memory; he mustn’t think ill of the dead, especially Ma, who had done the best for him she could and who had died because of him, "I can't remember anything, sir."

Mister Graves puts his coffee mug down, removes the papers from his coat and arranges them to face Credence. Leaning over to read them Credence feels his face heat, "These are love letters, sir."

"Are they?" Mister Graves prompts and Credence realizes, of course no, they're not.

Mister Graves has him tuck the papers into his bag instead of taking them back and after paying, Goldie doing much of the math for Mister Graves, they make their way back outside and then head toward the Woolworth building.

"Probably just in time for Tina to be getting the full postmortem report and the interviews wrapped up." Mister Graves' subdued excitement would be odd to Credence if he hadn't already come to understand how much the man enjoyed his job. The words were morbid, but when applied to the larger picture it was a problem to solve, a community to protect, a statute to uphold. Credence is so proud of him, of being here at his side.

Chapter Text

They stop by Mister Graves' office on the way to the floor with all the aurors’ desks, and he hands Credence a well-thumbed copy of a book entitled Le Morte Darthur. Credence finds himself glad to see it is English on the inside, but more intriguing are the beautifully intricate prints on thin paper. "In that book is all you'll need to decode the encryption of Goldie Minsch's report."

Credence nods; he holds the book to his chest as they walk the corridor to the floor.

Tina's desk is rather messy, and she has a map of Jersey spread out over a bunch of papers and quills. Mister Graves pulls out a chair for Credence to sit at but stands beside it, speaking over him to ask about the reports. Credence doesn't quite understand the detailed explanations of curse work and remains half focused, paging through the book Mister Graves had loaned him without any deep intention, mostly to look at the artwork. The prints are not enchanted but they are enchanting, so many small details in the clothing, hair, and stance of each figure. With nothing more than black and white a depth of character and brilliance could be portrayed.

"Mister Graves, I've never worked a homicide before, you're sure about this?" Tina doubts herself; Credence can sympathize.

"The wonder that saved New York asking me if I'm sure? Yes Tina, I'm sure." Mister Graves leans over to study the map, hip canted against her desk, but Credence can hear him lower his voice to a whisper, "We were at that park last night. I obliviated the police officer before apparating out. Do you have time of death?"

Tina's eyes widen but then she's paging through the scrolls on her desk, "Around ten, sir, according to Healer Monroe, and he'd been worked with curses before they burned him. The immolation was cause of death."

"I'm going to get out of here before Picquery tracks me down; bring around your interview scripts tonight and I'll give you ours."

They take their leave after Mister Graves stops around a few more desks. Credence is terribly glad to see the sofa in the sitting room, sitting gingerly upon it, but already his spine curves to take its shape.

"I'm going to go sharpen up some of the wards around my bedroom and the spare." Mister Graves informs him, shrugging out of his robes to hang them up. "Don't let anyone in if they knock, come and get me, and if you need anything make yourself at home and take it."

Credence imagines taking a nap in Mister Graves' big bed; that's not at all what he means. "Yes sir. I think I'll make some tea."

"It's in a jar next to the sugar. Make sure the weevils haven't gotten to it, I don't drink much of it."

Mister Graves leaves him alone on the sofa, and Credence contemplates actually standing, taking off his robes like he should have coming in, and making tea. Instead, he stretches his legs out with a groan and lists sideways till his head is resting on the seat cushion. Everything aches in a pleasing way and he is exhausted.

He drifts to the sound of Mister Graves moving around, furniture shifting and doors shutting and opening, and he thinks about the engravings in the book from today and the paintings moving around in the books from before, the beauty of art that wasn't just pictures of witches burning.

It is here that he feels safe, in this place with so many delicate touches of Mister Graves' life and his slow acceptance of his welcome in it. To take advantage, to take, to make himself a place. He stands sluggishly, hangs up his robes and slips his wand out of them. Knotting his scarf loosely, he tucks the wand in to the hilt there and lets it hang against his chest.

Kettle found, stove lit, tea inspected for weevils, of which there are none. He spoons honey into a mug and takes the book out with The Raven, thumbing to the page. Poetry, and his heart beats in double time, excited and guilty both: Ma would have been scandalized. He's been given this task by his guardian, his new guardian, but he knows it's his own sin to complete it.

He bites at his lower lip, strokes down the spine of the book with his hand in as loving a manner as he can. He'd chosen Horned Serpent, he wanted to learn all he could about magic.

He wants to learn all he can about Mister Graves.

His tea goes cold in the mug, curled over the book till his hair touches the page, mouth moving with the decadent passages. Smothers himself in his new life, more guilt laid to rest. He'll say a prayer for himself tonight, for who he was.

He finishes The Raven and from there it's onward to The City in the Sea and The Haunted Palace, and Credence is full of too much, too quickly. He puts the book down and paces a circle in the sitting room. Ghosts by the way of regret and lost chances, madness brought from loss. Missed crossings and the shortness of the mortal coil, the pleasures of the earth the Lord had left to them even as they were cast out of Eden.

He starts a little at the soft sigh from the doorway to the hall. Mister Graves is smiling at him, ever so soft, leaning against the jam, one foot braced to support against the wood, his arms crossed, "You're pacing like you're locked in a dance with yourself. What's got you worked up?"

"I read some of the other works in the book." Credence frets his hands against his slacks.

"Should have warned you they're mostly horrors, didn't take you to be carried so easily by fancy."

Credence shakes his head, "They're not frightening. I mean, I'm not, I'm not frightened."

Mister Graves tilts his head, waiting for Credence to continue, so he does, "It's saddening, so much of it seems to be about people who are so wrapped up internally they allow themselves to suffer for it. Overlooking life or becoming obsessed with death or ill omens."

"I can imagine you're experienced in that kind of literature." Mister Graves nods, "I did read those pamphlets you all handed out you know."

Credence covers his mouth with a hand, shakes his head but then nods, and he feels the energy in him, the need to pace, building up, because so much of him is like these poems. So much of both of them, Mister Graves worn like a mask because he was so chained up inside, and Credence promised belonging because being wanted and cherished was all the desire of his heart when he should have been leaving that to God.

"You're not like the Raven at all." Credence swears in loyalty.

"I suppose that makes me the scholar?" Mister Graves' amusement is dry, and Credence is dizzy with his affection for this man.

"Nevermore!" Credence says sharply and Mister Graves laughs, open and warm.

"Then who am I like?"

"Like yourself, Mister Graves, and that's all I would want you to be."

A more cryptic smile, a lowering of his gaze, "You're still restless." Mister Graves pushes off the door and enters the sitting room properly. Credence stills under the light touch of his hands, one at the curve of his hip, the other against his shoulder. "Put your arms around my shoulders Credence."

Credence obeys bodily while he second guesses the directives.

"You've never danced, I'm quite certain. I'm going to teach you." Mister Graves explains.

"We, we don't have any music." Credence cringes at himself, making excuses when he wants to be nowhere more than he wants to be right here. It's taking advantage of Mister Graves' kindness and guardianship.

"Hum us a hymn." Mister Graves moves him, back and forth, the pressure of his hand against Credence's hip the very slightest, but it's enough to move him, the precious command of it, the physical manifestation of everything Credence finds comforting in Mister Graves.

He hums for them the strain for The Object of the Gospel wordless and a little deep, Mister Graves presses their chests together then, and Credence hangs his head to bury his eyes against the strength of Mister Graves' shoulder.

Dancing is nice. It's surprisingly easy with Mister Graves leading him, and he isn't falling to vice and sin so much as falling against the man before him when he loses balance, only to be held firm.

"Now I won't have to take partners at any of the MACUSA functions I'm forced to attend. I can just dance with you." It's a joke, Credence knows it's a joke, but he wants that to be truth so much it burns him up inside.

Credence hums them all the way though twice before Mister Graves spins them, lifting him clear up, and Credence is braced against him, feet dragging the floor and he's breathless and laughing, buried face and full-bodied shiver.

They draw apart, Credence tangling his hands against Mister Graves' shirtsleeves. "Are you still happy?" Mister Graves asks him. The sitting room is getting dim with the day finished, and Credence remembers being braced above the books in the kitchen in light just like this, but despite only a precious few days apart he feels so far removed from the man he'd been then. Not just in appearance but deep down, under the skin, like new words have been written into his soul.

"I am." He is, for he knows what happiness is, what it really feels like now, not just twisted up hope and hanging himself with a noose of promises. But he has magic in his heart and love in every breath. It's cowardice to cling to the man, to let his desire go unchecked just so he can keep that happiness in his life, but then let him be a coward. If the last thing he sees in life is Mister Graves' face, he'd die happy too, but it’s not really enough. "How can I make you happy? How can I be good for you?"

Mister Graves' face is a contrast study of shadows, Judith and her maidservant, "Your smile eases my burdens, Credence, you are already so good for me." He tangles his hand into Credence's hair and moves forward just enough to press a kiss to his temple. "Let’s go figure out dinner, my boy."

It is between deciding beef roast or a chicken pie that Tina and Queenie arrive, and Mister Graves determines to get the beef roast as it becomes clear the sisters mean to eat with them. Queenie asks question after question about his wand and his first lesson in charms, and even lets him answer most of them verbally, probably for her sister's sake.

"Isn't that just the griffin's growl, Teeny?" Queenie claps after his stunted explanation of his first spell.

Mister Graves brings in the roast, procuring Tina's assistance to ready plates and drink glasses. "As we suspected, he's tapping into the magic, but I'd like to write your friend Scamander about some other things. In his notes there was a certain implication that he hoped the Obscurus would dissipate as the wizard or witch reconnected with their magic, but I think Credence is just cutting through it."

"I have his department information for the Ministry, sir. I'll leave it on your desk tomorrow."

"Speaking of tomorrow – Credence, you'll be shadowing Auror Goldstein for the day; does that sound alright to you?"

Credence nods, his stomach flipping circles just a little, and he finishes his bite of mashed potatoes before responding in earnest, "I'll try very hard not to get in your way, Miss Tina."

"Nonsense, Credence is very intelligent; put him to work, Tina."

"About that, would it be alright if I took your interviews about last night separately?" Tina asks, clearly nervous.

"As that's standard operating procedure in an investigation I would be disappointed in you if you didn't, Auror Goldstein."

He's humming hymnals as they do the dishes and put them away and Queenie hums along with him in time, although she laughs and explains before he asks, "It was stuck in your head all through dinner." She reaches out and pinches his cheek.

Mister Graves puts Tina to work helping him with the wards again and Credence watches them moving down the hall, together, gold light traced into stately walls.

Queenie takes some knitting out of her bag, and Credence pulls out the correspondence from Goldie and studies it, Le Morte Dathur cracked open in his lap.

1918 January 1st,

Dearest,

You would not believe the colours of the leaves today, I stood on the old porch and watched them turn, and it's nothing so precious as your beauty but it reminded me of you.

Credence is used to Puritan English, in old forms of words and their variations as the years turned them or his Ma found a spelling she liked better in the alignment of the page. He knew how to read and how to read very many different things, because sometimes a word wasn't as important as the whole page.

But he knew two things for sure, it wasn't 1918, and color wasn't likely to be spelled that way unless it was on purpose, as the spelling was not repeated even once in the pages.

It takes him till Mister Graves is on his knees tracing things into the floorboards as Tina draws great arcs around the door to piece together a page from the outdated letter.

I missed you on the boat and I waved from the shore but I doubt you saw me. The black of the night is hardly as deep as my longing for you but I find myself dwelling there.

He draws out a bit of scroll, begins to cross reference the matching words page to page, the scratch of his quill, whispered spellwork in the hall, the click of Queenie's knitting needles.

Three men in black suits came in and upon the events of the strangeness asked many questions among one another.

Credence settles the letter down, reads the sentence again and again, and checks his work.

He stands, with his scroll, over the crosswork of referenced words is his four inches of report and he thinks how varied and strange Mister Graves' lessons are. Levitation, House history, Cryptography, Dance.

He stands at the edge of the door, "It's about me, about the things the Obscurus did: the report is I mean."

"What's that, Credence?" Tina asks.

"He decoded correspondence from one of our informants." Mister Graves sits back, a single lock of hair falling into his eyes, wand pressed against his chest. "Well done Credence." The pride is there, Credence can taste it, and he doesn't have the hand on him but the impression of intent is enough, it's enough. He hands the scroll out and Mister Graves looks it over. "A book cipher is one of the simpler methods of encryption but can still be one of the hardest to crack depending on the rarity of the text being used to cipher with. Another name for it is the Bible Cipher, as the most common book used is the Bible. As our informants are incapable of magic we have to use ciphers that they can work with."

Tina peers over at the text Credence had deciphered, "Three men in dark suits sounds highly ominous considering Aurors all wear brown leather in the field."

"Yes, I'll be making sure Director Lopez reviews the informant reports." Mister Graves stands. Putting the scroll back in Credence's hand, he tucked his wand into his waistcoat in order to stretch his back, a popping sound, and then a groan. "That's enough warding for tonight, Tina."

"You've only got a few rooms left at least, and people would have to head through the others to get to them."

"My thoughts precisely."

Queenie has put her knitting away and comes out to stand next to Credence in the doorway, "I love those stories, although the copy you gave him isn't the one we had when we were little girls."

"It's the no-maj version, wouldn't do for a squib living in their world to have a magical book." Mister Graves shows them to the door, making sure they've remembered all of their things.

"Guinevere setting fire to Arthur's pants and setting off with Lancelot was the best part though!" Queenie laughs.

"That never happened, mama made that up, Queenie."

Another laugh and Queenie leans in to kiss Credence on the cheek, "I'll see you tomorrow, honey."

Mister Graves trails his hand along the door when it's shut and Credence watches as the locks click into place, finishing with a flick of the wrist to lay a spell of unknown origin, but one that Credence can interpret as another layer of security. He looks tired when he turns back to Credence, his hair out of its careful styling, a shadow of stubble along his jaw, thumbprints of fatigue under his eyes. When he smiles Credence still falls under the sway of his charisma. "Go wash up Credence, I'll put your books away."

Credence obeys, unsure of where to put his wand now that his scarf is off. He sets it on the sink while he cleans up and puts on his sleeping clothes. Carrying it with him to the guest room, he sees Mister Graves sitting on the edge of the bed, legs crossed, weight back on his arms. His waistcoat is open and his first few shirt buttons undone, his tie draped along his chest. He holds up a hand and a single ribbon of dusky pink rests in the center, "Queenie must have dropped this. I figured you might want it for your hair, keep it out of your face."

Credence considers this and moves, remembering how he used to braid Chastity's hair for her before she had fallen into Ma's footsteps and decided to do her plaits herself, his hands too often bloodied. He settles with his back to the bed, and Mister Graves moves to brace his legs so that Credence's slight frame is tucked there between him.

Mister Graves begins to card his hand through his hair, careful of knots and tangles. "Give us our prayer, Credence."

"We confess to you oh great Redeemer, Gentle Lord, our sin, our willful transgressions against Your love. We are full of these frequent aberrations until the garden of our hearts is overgrown and needing of tending. The waters of our soul unclean."

Gentle strokes through his hair, he tilts his head back, throat bared as Mister Graves combs and strokes, gentle scratches at his scalp.

"Within our nature are unholy wants, shameful desires, the sins of the flesh defile and pollute us. The thrust of our worldly body, its lies and seductive promises, we wreck and tremble upon the Devil's bed. In the tainted heart of us You will see images of our fallen imaginings."

A hand slips around to press palm curved upon his throat, and he speaks through the warmth of it, voice a delicate breathless sound.

"Oh God, please give us mercy, strike in us a blow that we may remember the sin of pride, the sin of lust. Do not let us be mastered by the world's pleasures, for we have our master in the Lord, Your Son, so help us to be enraptured to You."

Just the slightest pressure against his throat and his eyes are shut tight, his body arched in a mimicry of rapture, hand clutching his wand. Mister Graves collects his hair in one hand.

"Held in sway and held up, bring us up to Your light, and hold us there, give us strength to be Your servants and keep us safe in Your grace at Your side."

He's panting maybe, Mister Graves' hand stroking against his throat, "Amen."

"Amen." Mister Graves shifts and his hands fall free of Credence only to pull him up, cradled before he's placed in bed. His hand is loose on his wand and Mister Graves puts it on the bedside table for him.

He's exhausted, his body is burning up. Mister Graves dims the light and looks down over him in the dark, shadows and impressions from the lantern in the hall. "My little speech writer, my beautiful bird." Mister Graves praises him.

He wants Mister Graves to stay, wants to wrap entwined with him till he's not sure where they're separate, wants to sleep with the man's breath against his hair. He's a coward, a sinner, God help him. "Goodnight Mister Graves." He's still breathless sounding, the covers are low on his hips and his pajama top rides up enough for him to feel the cool air against his skin.

"Goodnight Credence. The potion is still on the table if you need it." Mister Graves lingers in the doorway, hand against the wood molding. Credence watches with heavy-lidded eyes as he drags a spell into the wood with his wand. "If you need anything, I'm right down the hall."

The door shuts quietly, the light flickers dim and then blows out, and the light in the hall too, but Credence doesn't hear Mister Graves step away from the door for some time, like he's waiting.

Credence waits too, he's not sure for what, but the metal click sound of Mister Graves' shoes finally moves down the hall and Credence whispers again, "Goodnight Mister Graves.”

Chapter Text

In the bottom of the tub are tin cans, rusted open, rotten insides spilling out. He breaks wands under his Ma's watchful gaze and throws them into the porcelain basin. Mister Graves is bleeding out, impaled on the remnants of a carriage. A screen door is half off its hinges and ghostly shapes dance in an empty farmhouse. Goldie from the diner writes love letters and sets them on fire; a man's voice is screaming from the letters about Credence's inverted nature.

He wakes up sobbing, gasping, his hands are flat against the ceiling, and his bare feet touch the wall. He's there, smoke and sharp things, floating like he'd made Mister Graves float. He buries his face in his hands, sobs into the turning silence of the Obscurus.

It twists and tears around him, peeling under the old wallpaper, sliding into the thinnest cracks of the wood paneling.

There isn't even dawn's light in the sky, but when he eventually opens the door there is a light on down the hall, a warm glow from the kitchen. He's more man then monster but he knows when Mister Graves looks up from the kitchen table it's to see smoke and shadows, white-dead eyes.

"I had a nightmare." Credence tells him.

"Coffee on the stove, or the potion down the hall."

Neither of those are solutions he wants, neither the thing he needs. He slips into the chair across from Mister Graves. "What about you?"

"Grindelwald came to visit every so often, to extract a memory from me, or to tear something into me. If I took Dreamless Sleep every night I'd end up addicted and in my public position I can't afford a vice so easily taken advantage of. So coffee, work, hope to hell I work hard enough to sleep without dreams the next night. Even before this I couldn't rely on that."

"But other Aurors in your department do, you said that yourself."

"I'm not going to judge them for what gets them through the day. They won't wind up in the papers if they end up overdosing on the draught on accident."

"Will I get like that?"

Mister Graves looks at him, at his milk-white eyes and his smoke-black hands, Obscurus a twisted mass of darkness on his face, arms, entangled with the kitchen table. "Do you trust me Credence?"

"Yes sir." It comes out unbidden and instantaneous, pulled from him like a blade from the sheath.

"I won't let you; you put that trust in me, and I'll keep you safe."

The Obscurus twists, tangling up in papers, reaches out like Credence can't, or won't, and then it's gone: up in smoke, banished but not really, just pulled back inside. Credence's eyes are too dark; devil's black Ma had called them, too much reflected in the deeps. "You have vices though, don't you, sir?"

"No man is perfect, are you sure you want to hear about them, Credence?"

He isn't, no, he's afraid they won't be the kind he wants, and maybe it's better for now, maybe it will hurt less to not know. He shakes his head quietly.

"I'll never hurt you, and I want you to tell me if I do, you remember that?"

Credence nods, his hair is loose in the ribbon Mister Graves had tied it into. "You can't, you wouldn't. You're very gentle, Mister Graves." He looks down, shame turning in him, "Will you tie my hair back again before we leave for the day? Not yet, but when we're getting ready." He'd be with Tina, no one to pet through it, no one to praise him through it. It would be more practical this way.

"Of course. You should try to get a little more sleep, Credence, it's not even five yet. You look exhausted."

Mister Graves follows him down the hall, nothing for light but the dim one coming from the kitchen, "Just a little sip, like a drop of medicine. It's too late for a full dose." Mister Graves instructs him and Credence follows the command. The effect is immediate: he's drowsy but not dizzy, and yet he finds himself slipping against the wall.

The heft of arms under him, cradled too tenderly against broad chest, and he closes his eyes as the room spins and then settles.

Mister Graves pulls the covers over him, another goodnight but one in halves. He tangles a hand into Mister Graves', grasping his scarred palm against calloused grip, "You'll be patient with me? You won't turn me out if I can't, if I'm not good at this, if I can't be a good wizard?"

The brush of lips against his is chaste, softer than his own first kiss had been, taken from a man he'd thought dead, and Mister Graves is braced above him, "Nevermore." He whispers and Credence covers his own mouth with his hands in a prayer. "Goodnight, Credence." But he's already drifting off, the words register as nothing so much as a further promise of patience.

That short passage of time that transpired the night before – that glimpse between dream and darkness, where Mister Graves spoke of vices and the Obscurus almost touched him, almost took what was becoming the safest and most secure thing in his life and snuffed the life out of it because he can’t stop wanting – all of that feels unreal in the morning light. It's quite past dawn and Mister Graves is moving around his borrowed room as Credence drags himself through the waves of fatigue, the sleep that clings to him.

"Yeah, there's that too." Mister Graves helps him clean up, helps him dress; Credence's arms are loose and heavy around his broad shoulders.

He hums, Mister Graves spins them a short circle, dance but only to get to Credence's vests, chooses one. Tips his chin up, "There's a boy."

Credence holds his head up and swallows shallow when his tie is done up.

"It'll wear off soon." Mister Graves promises him.

The coffee is desperately bitter and dark when he takes a sip, but, he thinks with mug warming his hands, this is what it would taste like right now to kiss Mister Graves fully, open lips, teeth. And it is so very bitter, but he takes another drink and stands in the kitchen while Mister Graves secures his briefcase for the day on the table.

"I put some chocolate in your bag last night. If you feel light-headed or dizzy, eat a bit of it. I realize we shouldn't have practiced so much yesterday." Mister Graves steps up to him and holds out the surreal shape of his wand, the moon motif glinting as it turns in Mister Graves grip.

"It's the happiest I think I'd ever been in my life, Mister Graves; I don't regret it."

"We can take happiness and be healthy too, Credence. Moderation next time." The wry smile on Mister Graves' face warms Credence, settles him more than the bitter brew.

Either the coffee is working on him or the potion is finally wearing off by the time they're at the office. Credence is investigating the potted plant, which only has a single sofa arm growing out of it, when Mister Graves puts a hand on his back and another on his hip, drawing him up to stand with perfect control, correcting his posture.

Credence feels boneless and charged like a livewire all at once. He peers through the shadow of his bangs to see Mister Graves so close, one leg almost braced between Credence's own. He holds up a ribbon in his grip.

His hair is gathered back, combed carefully with gentle fingers. The strands all fall into place, and the ribbon is tied to keep it in place. "There you are, should keep out of your way now."

"What if Missus Queenie wants her ribbon back?"

"Tell her I'll buy her a whole bobbin."

"Ribbons are sold on rolls, sir."

Mister Graves steps back away from him only to turn him so that they were facing together, "Are they now?"

"Bobbins are for thread."

Mister Graves' lips twitch, "Know a lot about tailoring, Credence?"

He shakes his head, "No, but I did the mending for the girls."

Mister Graves gathers his hands up, turns them around, and Credence looks, wonders what Mister Graves sees in them. All he can read is scar tissue and a willingness to sin.

Mark 9:43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

"We have spells for mending, sewing, hemming. Queenie demonstrated some upon you already." Mister Graves rubs a thumb over the long center crease of Credence's palms. "I won't need you to darn my socks, if you were considering it."

"I can still cook." Credence finds himself yearning for this, knows in the stillness between them that this is a goodbye, however short. His heart is strengthened by it even as he falls to the longing.

Mister Graves moves slowly, like he's waiting for Credence to jerk away, to run like an animal cornered, and Credence watches with his heart in his throat as the man bends to press a kiss to the center of each palm. When he rights himself, Credence is full of words, caught up in his chest: snippets of devotional prayers, memories of sacrifice and loyalty.

"What I can remember of Divination," Mister Graves' voice is a smooth drawl, syrup thick and dark. Divination was a sin, oracles and false prophets; He had whispered of his visions, told Credence how important he was. Mister Graves sounds like he's talking about a lark, like a joke on a crackerjack box, "You've got a very long lifeline, my boy."

Credence looks down, and Mister Graves swipes a line through the track of his kiss with his thumb.

"So keep safe today. Mind Tina, she's very intelligent, but sometimes she doesn't think things through all the way and rushes into them. Her heart is in the right place, but, well."

"I'll be mindful. I'll be good." He promises.

He considers that perhaps it is different here, but he has to accept that there is only so much by way of physical impressions he can take as cultural difference before they get to where they are now, Mister Graves' hand at the small of his back and Credence's hands tingling where he grips his bag strap as they walk side by side.

"Mister Graves?"

"Yes, Credence?" They're almost to the floor with all the Auror's desks, the bullpen he's heard it described by.

"Come back safe, as we are parted I will think on you constantly, and if you'll permit it I'll pray for you all day."

Mister Graves' hand grips tight before smoothing out again, soothing glide over the thick cloth of his robes. "I'll permit it, but I hope you can read your coursework and pray at the same time."

"I'm always praying, sir, I don't think it will be that hard."

They're going through the doorway and he can see Tina leaning over her desk, looking at the map again and also a stack of papers. The noise in the room is already a buzz and no one gives them much heed as they walk through it. "Do I give you much to pray over, Credence?"

An Ocean of lust, all bubbling over. Credence thinks to himself, "Not purposefully, sir, I'm just very wrong inside."

Tina greets them with a worried expression, "I'll take your interview first, Head Auror Graves." She pulls a chair out for Credence to settle in and he takes out Le Morte Darthur to read in the meantime.

It had sometimes taken Credence an hour to fully travel the passage of one page, and his Ma had often called him a dullard or dunce. In these pages, and in truth in every book Mister Graves had graced unto his open, seeking hands, he moves through the text like he's cutting through it, like it's breathing, and every page is something new. His heart finds the Bible's reflected light in these tales, allegories and allusions, and in the tale of Arthur a joining of the Pagan and the Christian that Ma would have burned his books for, but Credence is dizzy with the comparisons.

An entwining of his old life and his new one, and a promise from the ages, written in fairytales. He is a contradiction, but one that can be borne, one that can prevail, one that can be accepted.

He sweeps back to the foreword and his mind is filled with scholarly perusals of chivalric code and courtly love when Tina returns to get him. Mister Graves bids him farewell, not with words, but with a stroke of his wand along his shoulders to tidy his clothes before the door shuts.

"It's okay, Credence, you don't have to be nervous. I'm not here to accuse you of anything; I just need your report for the record." Tina smiles softly at him, and he settles into the chair, it's different here than the last time he'd been questioned. Auror Potter had taken his interrogation from the cell they'd put him in that he'd been in for however long, maybe a lifetime, before Mister Graves had swept in and saved him.

It feels surreal to him that it's only been a few short days since then. He has a wand now, tucked in against his chest, and a bag full of books about magic and other sinful things, and he has people he can tentatively call friends with a feeling like pain he calls hope.

"Do you want something to drink?" She asks, not yet sitting at the table; there is a mug of half-finished coffee on it.

"No thank you, Missus Tina."

She smiles at him and settles, "Credence, you can just call me Tina you know?"

He takes a measured breath, "Okay, Tina."

"Right, I'm gonna start asking you questions now, okay?" She sets up a piece of scroll on the table and then settles a quill over it. To his wonder, it stands on its own against the paper.

"Okay." The quill writes down his word following his name. He only understands the question Tina asks because it shows up on the page Can you tell me what you were doing in Jersey?

"We went to a restaurant there for dinner. They had tomato pies; I'd seen them before, but I'd never tried them. Mister Graves spoke to the restaurant man in- I think they were speaking Italian, and there was too much pie, we left it behind." Credence felt guilty for the waste, he hoped someone had found the remnants and made a good dinner of it.

"Why did you leave it behind?"

Credence looks down at himself in shame, "I grew upset; Mister Graves apparated us to a park to calm me down."

"Why were you upset?" Tina asks, and the concern isn't of an Auror giving an interview.

"Guilt, I, it's okay, Tina. Mister Graves calmed me down in the park."

"How long were you in the park?"

Credence worries his hands at the bag strap. "Not very long. Mister Graves calmed me down, as I said, and then maybe we'd been there a few minutes when the police officer shouted at us. It's my fault, I'm so sorry, it's my fault."

Tina reaches out to take his hands from where he's hurting them against the metal buckle on the bag, gently holds them away. "It's okay, Credence. Nothing is your fault; you didn't do anything wrong." She promises.

"No, Missus Tina, T-Tina, it's my fault, that we were there, and, and it was compromising; it could have hurt Mister Graves' reputation. The man called us inverts."

Tina looks confused, "What do you mean, Credence?"

Mister Graves had known what the word meant, he doesn't know why Tina doesn't. He's trembling, and he doesn't want her to think any less of him. He's struggling, fighting with the silence, when a voice speaks over them, disembodied.

"Did you experience any blackouts that night Mr. Barebone?"

"Congressman Day?!" Tina stands sharply, stomps out of the room and Credence waits a moment, terrified, before following after her righteous anger.

Next to the room they'd been in is another room, and Credence can see past Congressman Day and Tina to a shimmering mirror, showing the other room clearly as if there were a window there instead of a wall.

"There were no signs of an Obscurus' touch on any of the afflicted, least of all the victim, and you, you have to go through the proper departments to access any of our investigations." Tina has drawn others to her with the ruckus, Auror Potter and another Auror with a pale complexion and an equally pale violet pantsuit. Credence cannot readily determine gender and it makes him nervous enough to stop looking altogether.

"Research into the Obscurus is my department, though."

"I'm sure Head Auror Graves will agree?" Tina squares her shoulders and stares him down and she's shaking, obviously nervous but so brave.

Congressman Day strolls away, having to part Aurors who glare him down on the way out.

"I'm sorry, Credence." Tina reaches out and pats his arm. "How did he even get in there?" She looks at the door but sees no signs of tampering apparently. "And how did he find out I was interviewing you?"

"Someone must have informed him." Auror Potter is the one to guess, sticking his hands in his pockets, "What did he get?"

Tina shrugs, "Not much, I think he was trying to imply Credence had something to do with it though."

"Before we took the portkey to West Virginia yesterday, he found me in the train station, but he didn't get to talk to me long. An older lady started smacking him with her cane."

Auror Potter laughs sharply before trying to look innocent, "He doesn't have many friends here, tried to fight for a pay decrease in the Auror Department earlier in the fiscal year."

"I should send a memo to Graves about this." Tina says mostly to herself, but they all follow her back to her desk.

"Auror Potter and I were actually coming to ask if you wanted to get an early lunch with us." The man, Credence guesses by way of his deep voice, invites them both more by way of his attention, speaking at Credence but to Tina. His accent is like Congressman Day's, but his tone held far more by way of dry wit and less of being better than everyone else.

Auror Potter grins wide, "Pyxis is using me; it was all his idea."

Tina is scribbling on a piece of paper with her quill, and when she's done she taps it with her wand and it folds itself into a little paper mouse and takes off up a metal tube hanging down from the ceiling, out of sight. "Credence, you've met Auror Potter; that's his partner, Auror Rose."

Auror Rose smiles with cool ease and composure, "We're related, or we would be if dear mother had not been stricken from the family name for running off to the Americas, you being a Nyx and all."

"He talks like he's big stuff, but his ma was a squib and his pop a no-maj banker and he's as muddy as the rest of us." Auror Potter speaks, and Credence understands by the way Tina trusts them that he can too.

"What do you think, Credence?" Tina asks, sticking her wand back into her blazer. He knew she was trying to be kind, but he didn't wish to keep her from any socializing she might have done had he not been here.

"That would be nice." Besides, he'd already had a meal with other aurors once before already.

"Okay, but we're going to go check out that park in Jersey while we're out." Tina puts on her jacket; a brown leather overcoat just like the one Auror Potter is wearing. Auror Rose grabs his on the way out and Credence wonders how they don't manage to stand out – and then he realizes it is magic, obviously.

Chapter Text

They end up at the same restaurant stall Mister Graves had taken them to, but this time it's Auror Potter who gets the tomato pie, and Credence doesn't recognize all the different things on it but braces himself to try anyway. It's mostly vegetables, he finds.

Auror Rose eats in a very particular manner, small bites, not a bit of it on his suit, while Tina ends up with cheese on her blouse.

In the broad light of day it's odd to be here again, a day apart; he doesn't feel as morose or as hopeless as he did before. Auror Potter and Rose tell them about their current primary investigation, tracking down the supplier Grindelwald used for potions ingredients, connected to the wider investigation Director Lopez was running into the dark wizard's supporters.

"Director Graves' face has been popping up in the oddest places," Auror Rose explains, "And it's very obvious not everyone who was making deals with it was as fooled as we were."

"Gnarlak seemed to know something was up, too." Tina finds the cheese on her blouse and picks it off, "Might want to ask him about the reagents too."

They walk to the park; Credence is surprised to see it's not that far away. He doesn't recognize the area by the light of day at first, but then he can see an impression of bushes from the pathway, realizes they are standing where the police officer had been.

He turns a slow circle getting his bearings, they take a step back away from him, and then he's tripping down the incline, Tina rushing after him. "We were down here." Credence stops, the grass doesn't have the impression of him anymore, the indentation of Mister Graves' knees, the evidence of their embrace left to his memories.

They all look back to the bricked path when he turns his attention there, "He was up there, the police officer."

Auror Rose looks around. They're in a tight clearing of bushes, wide enough here where they are, but enclosed from prying eyes. It had been bad luck they'd been right in the proper angle to be seen from the lane. Turning his own circle, Auror Rose pauses, hand shielding his eyes from the sun, "What's that up there?"

They turn to follow the motion of his hand: above the bushes, the treeline, is a footbridge.

"We're in a depression here, a little above a stream." Tina must have the map memorized.

They have to walk all the way around the park, but from the footbridge they can not only see the entire clearing, but the path, and past that the remnants of a tree burnt to black twisting branches, a circle around it in bone-white earth, unnatural.

It's a straight line away from them here on the bridge, and Auror Potter surreptitiously draws his wand. A glinting triangle forms in the air and then chimes. "Got an apparition ward on the clearing, Tina."

Tina frowns with a nod, "Split up, check all the small nook places like this one."

Credence follows her down the bridge, "What's wrong?"

"Someone put a spell down to alert them when someone else apparated or disapparated from the clearing you and Graves were in."

"Why would they do that?"

Tina drew her wand and uses him as cover, drawing the same spell into the air Auror Potter had, it chimes again. "I don't know, to track movements. Or if they knew the common meeting places of a person they could use it to ambush them. This place isn't a common haunt that I know though, not for us, I mean."

Credence knows Mister Graves had familiarity with the park, knows that he'd been there before by the snippets of information to filter through his own panic when they'd tumbled home. He'd been directed to forget it, but he couldn't just forget things.

Tina had been nothing but kind to him; he ultimately owed it to Tina that he was here at all, and he knew she would only do the right thing, the kindest thing. Mister Graves' secrets would be safe with her, whatever they were. But did that give him the right to share them?

If Queenie were here she'd already know, but it was up to him now, to make the decision for them. The president had put her trust in him.

"Tina, Mister Graves has been here before. Before he was taken by, by Him, he'd visited this park before. Maybe the wards were tracking him?"

"I think you're right, Credence." She frets her hands, tucking her wand back away. "He won't like that."

They meet back up with Aurors Potter and Rose at the base of the footbridge again. In total, they find ten areas with the apparition warding on them. "We'll need someone from the Spatial Magic Department to come smudge the place." Auror Potter scratches his head.

"I want to check the crime scene before we call in any other departments." Tina turns them back to the path.

"You're the boss." Auror Potter grins. It makes the moment less oppressive when they're all standing before the tree, the burnt ground around it, and the de-cursed ground around that.

"Took a good part of yesterday for them to work out the cursework. I still haven't read the whole report." Tina cringes, "Worse than wand license paperwork."

"If you slip a copy on my desk, I'll give you the salient details." Auror Rose offers.

"You’ve got a deal, Pyxis." Tina sighs in relief.

Credence steps over the edge onto the white earth, worked like loam and empty of nutrients, so hollow his worn boots dig easily into it. They aren't paying him much attention, talking about the state of the body detailed in the post-mortem and the curses that had been cast on the investigating no-maj police force. The work the Oblivation Department had to do after it had all calmed down.

Credence kneels down, his robe sinking against the ground. His hand trembles before him, and he turns it, scars from his belt buckle bright in the sharp sunlight. A long life-line, Mister Graves had said. He turns his hand back around and presses it to the earth palm-flat.

The Obscurus flickers, unholy fire, cold, sinks into the ground, draws out a remnant, a whisper. Mister Graves had told him: cursework lingered. It's a drawn bath, red-welted skin, Mister Graves saying his name prayer-soft but sinful. He stands and brushes his hand off on his slacks, "Missus Tina, I think that the people who did this were connected to G-Grindelwald." Terror seizes his throat but he says it, he says the name, let the Devil take Him.

"What makes you say that, Credence?"

"It feels the same, the curse does."

Aurors Potter and Rose throw a glance at one another but Credence takes a breath and ignores it.

"It should be impossible for someone to determine the origin of a Curse in such a way," Auror Rose is saying as they make their way to the evidence locker a quick appartion later, "But we know so very little about Obscurials," he shrugs, "I was in Theoretical Magical Research for three years before I transferred, and we thought they were extinct. So it's not as if we can say one way or another, but I wouldn't use it as evidence."

"I wouldn't drag Credence in front of-," Tina pauses, "Never mind, I would. It's not like Graves is going to discount him as inadmissible."

Credence is beginning to feel guilty; he hasn't gotten the time to read his coursework at all.

The evidence locker for MACUSA's law enforcement department is a series of endless hallways with filing cabinets that stretch to an impossible horizon. A small creature greets them, and it isn’t a Goblin but is no doubt inhuman and terribly nude, much to Credence's turning shame, although it didn't seem there was anything to be shameful about.

With a chipper bounce to its step, it leads the four of them through the stacks to an unmarked filing cabinet, and from inside it pulls forth the metal shafts that had impaled Mister Graves upon the ground.

Credence doesn’t need to touch them. The imprint of them, even decursed, was the same gut-turning miasma. The Obscurus, or the beast that turned within him that was that unholy thing, reacted to the work of it in the same way. It knew the maker was akin, the pattern of cursework and its careful implementation. "I'm sure." Credence nods, "The same feeling."

Leaving the evidence locker they stand outside in the hall, "We'll have to leave you now, gonna follow up on that lead you gave us." Auror Potter rocks on his heels, "Plus any excuse to dip into a speakeasy."

"We're not even following prohibition." Tina rolls her eyes.

"No, but they're good for other vices and the hiding of them." Auror Potter slings his arm around his partner's narrow shoulders, "And you should see Pyxis here when he gets a little loose, can tear the dance floor right up."

"He's lying; I have absolutely no rhythm. Take care, Auror Goldstein, Mister Barebone." Auror Rose smiles thinly and bows to them like they’re royalty.

Tina waves them off and then takes Credence's arm, drawing him back toward the bullpen, "I'll send another memo to Graves and then go report my findings to Director Lopez. She'll be the one needing to interface with Spatial Magic anyway."

Credence nods, head spinning a little with all the care and attention, given a direction to follow in. Tina motions him to a chair while she fills out another memo to Mister Graves and unfolds the little paper mice that have accrued in their absence, reading the messages on them and sending off her own quickly.

Credence takes the time to crack open his history text; halfway through the chapter he can hear a small chorus line of "Queenie!" Turning, he watches as she practically dances, his face too open maybe. Tina soothes her hand on his sleeve, "Don't get too caught up, she's sweet on someone."

Credence shakes his head, "No, I want to be like her. She's so," and he doesn't have the words for it, but Tina smiles sadly and nods, she knows just what he means, "Queenie." He finishes, it's the only thing that really fits.

"My sweeties. Tina, it's not fair you should have our honorary little brother all to yourself all day." Queenie smiles widely, and the longing isn't even a sharp one, it's not envy with a capital E but something wistful. Queenie is too nice to feel roughness for.

Tina taps the end of her quill against her cheek, drags it across her mouth. A piece of feather sticks to her lip. "Do you wanna take him while I talk with Director Lopez about a case?"

Queenie claps her hands, "Oh, would I!"

Credence has a niggling feeling that's precisely what Queenie is doing here to begin with. He slips his book back away, and she twines her arm with his as they're walking out. "I hope you don't mind too much having to put your reading away for now."

"No, Missus Queenie."

"Oh Credence just Queenie is fine, we're family now."

Credence nods, carefully. He's had plenty of sisters, yes, but he has a feeling these particular older ones will be much, much, different.

Queenie explains her duties and introduces him to some of her coworkers. She skates by on charm and easy laughter; she goes everywhere, and it's no wonder to him now why they'd chosen another tea girl to use that curse on. She could go practically anywhere without notice and it was only the wards Mister Graves had embedded that had alerted them.

She hands him his own tray and smiles. It's only a little jittery in his grip: the cups look so fancy. "Investigations keepin' you all to themselves, shame on them; you're a shoo-in for Teaboy. I don't think Mister Graves is gonna let you go though."

Credence flushes, and he wonders how Mister Graves is doing now, if he's had lunch yet, if he's taking care of himself.

"Oh honey, he survived this long, he'll be okay without you for half a day." Queenie smiles at him.

He feels sheepish and says a small prayer anyway.

"Oh, you're sweet. Come on, you like art right?"

He nods, because he's finding that arguably he does. Whether he appreciates it for any deeper reason than its illicit nature and rebellion against his Ma's strict upbringing is anyone's guess, but he's intrigued just the same.

They drop off the trays to a group of wizards poring over old maps and new. Credence recognizes strands of the subway.

Queenie links their arms again, drawing him through quieter hallways, "This is the floor where the President's office is, but she's in a Congressional hearing today." A plush carpet soaks up their footsteps, "She's got a personal assistant to get her tea and things, so we don't get to run up here often, but sometimes we make it up if there's a meeting going on."

Queenie slows them but doesn't stop, and they begin to walk by larger-than-life portraits of wizards and witches in far outdated clothing, "These are our past Presidents."

Credence notes most of them appear to be nodding off if not full-on sleeping; his eyes are wide open though, enthralled. He recognizes some of the names from his history text.

"Some of them can be awful rude about a girl's hair." Queenie frowns. "But they're sure pretty aren't they?"

Lifelike, but she was right, they were very pretty. Credence paths through the style changes and recognizes it as changes in artists. The last four all had the same use of shadow and Credence notes that there is no painting for President Picquery yet.

"When she leaves office they'll hang hers up." Queenie explains and then they duck down a flight of stairs, leaving the quiet portraits to their rest.

"Queenie, may I ask you a question?" He stumbles over his thoughts, purposefully jumbles them all up. She laughs softly.

"Was wondering when you'd catch on you could hide from me."

He flushes, feeling guilty, but maybe not so guilty, at least not enough to stop yet, "If someone kissed your hand, would that be romantic, do you think?"

Queenie tilts her head, "Something you read? I guess it would depend on context, sweetheart."

Credence remembers too, that Mister Graves had called him that, he had called him sweetheart, and it's more noise, more jumbled thoughts, impressions of panic. Queenie squeezes his arm to comfort him.

"In parting, a kiss to the palm."

Queenie looks bright, "That sounds romantic to me. Are you very far into the Arthurian legends?"

Credence shakes his head, "No, but, if Guinevere does set Arthur's pants on fire, I think he might deserve it."

Queenie giggles, and they talk about the early bits of the book. Queenie tells him about Sir Cadogan, and her understanding of him being left out of the copy Mister Graves gave him.

"There are so many Biblical references." Credence says, "But Ma wouldn't have liked courtly love much at all."

"It's all about passion isn't it?" Queenie laughs softly.

"With married women!" Credence shakes his head, "The consideration of the sin is just as bad as the sin."

"Oh Credence, you gotta be careful saying that. People might take it that you believe it all the way."

Credence feels his face heat, and she catches him out, gives him a half hug.

"No honey, I know you wouldn't judge others, but some people might take it personally." Queenie clicks her tongue to her teeth, "And you gotta be softer on yourself."

He shakes his head. He can't word it, but she tightens the embrace before letting him go. Who will be hard? Who will shepherd him onto the path of the Lord if he doesn't keep the lash ready? Ma is gone, so it's up to him now.

"Oh Credence,” Queenie whispers; he feels guilty for making her sound that sad, "You gotta come for dinner tonight, over to our place this time. And yes of course Mister Graves too."

"I'll ask Mister Graves if he'd like to come."

Queenie smiles, "Ready to go back to Investigations?"

He nods, only feeling a little guilty. He likes it here with Queenie, but he can’t deny he’s curious as to the investigation Tina is running.

Tina isn't at her desk when they arrive and so Queenie waits with him, taking an extended break Credence hopes she won't get in trouble for. A few Aurors flitter by, flirting or chatting with Queenie in turns, and Credence gets back to his history text, dipping into the supplementary for explanations on a variety of spells and references. He's marveling over how an eleven-year-old is supposed to remember all of this, but then again they'd have had less time trapped in the wrong world.

It's startling to suddenly have a thought like that, to fully embrace the otherness of his own nature. To understand he had indeed been in the wrong world the entire time. He belonged here, much owed to the grace of Mister Graves' patience, but he was becoming a wizard.

It's nice to listen to Queenie's voice, not to really hear it but to have it there, and it's nice in general to have the words that fall on him be so strange and wide in variety, words that would have had his Ma frothing, foaming over – she could really give a sermon on hatred for abominations to the lord. Witches, inverts, harlots.

Was he all three?

He's into the days prior to the Civil War and the bands of Northern Witches that repurposed their own tunnels for hiding in during the days of the Trials for use in the Underground Railroad when Tina returns, with Mister Graves at her side.

She hands him a stack of papers, their voices pitched low. Credence feels his face heat; Mister Graves doesn't even give him a glance, and he feels the desire to fade away. How foolish, a few days under the man's attention and he's already yearning for it; he's not the only thing in Mister Graves' life. He shores himself up, looks at the hands that rifle through pages, strong and sure. He can be happy for Mister Graves' focus, for his enjoyment of his job.

It had been there long before Credence had, and he wasn't going to be jealous. Affirming it somehow makes it so, and the longing spreads out to a thin ache, to be involved maybe, to help. He doesn't need to be the focus, no, but he wants to help. Yes, yes he is all three. Witch, or wizard in his case, invert, and harlot. The lust in him is turning him all to pieces, even making something as dear and precious as his connection to Mister Graves a thing he must second-guess and tear apart.

He turns his attention back to his book and listens as Mister Graves tells Tina he'll write her a list of his common places of apparition to review in the next break: he's only got five minutes left, he says. Credence reads about the careful cultivation of traditional magical practices by the slaves, the forceful integration, subjugation, or erasure of their magic. How they hid their cultural traditions from the predominantly white colonial wizards to protect them. He thinks of President Picquery and the layers of the oppressed, but has no words to describe this past a twisting feeling of unease. Things are quiet, he’s moving on in the text, words bleeding together.

When a warm hand skids along his shoulders his breath hitches in the hollow of his chest, heart trapped like the beating wings of a desperate bird, and his skin prickles hot. Mister Graves leans into him, voice a whisper against his ear, "How are you holding up, my boy?"

"Well, Mister Graves. How is your day going?"

"Dismal. Have you given up praying for me yet?"

"Nevermore." Credence's whisper rewards him with a decadent laugh, a warm huff of breath against his neck. He closes his eyes and savors it. When he opens them his face flushes hot: Queenie is smiling at him oddly.

"If Tina doesn't have you interpreting curses for her for the rest of the day, I'd like seven inches on breaches of the Statue of Secrecy in the Americas leading up to the Civil War."

Credence flushes further, realizing Mister Graves had been giving him some attention to know what chapter he was on. "Yes sir."

Queenie is gathering herself to leave, but manages to stay on after Mister Graves has left. When Tina turns to speak to another auror, she leans into Credence, "I mean if it were me, and I was getting kissed on my hand, I don't care how it's meant, that's romantic to me and that's what really matters. Communication isn't just one way, honey."

He's left with the answer he didn't particularly want. Of course it's up to him to interpret, but then does that mean he has to confront Mister Graves for his own good, admit to his own sins of intention?

Tina moves back around to him and distracts him from his thoughts, "Director Lopez wants me to do a write up of the findings at the Park, when I'm done I'm gonna go check up with Healer Monroe. Uh, do you think you could get a reading off Felicity Langley?"

"I'll try." Credence takes out his scroll parchment and quill and arranges it on the least filled corner of Tina's desk and applies himself to his lesson.

Filling seven inches is remarkably easy but rewriting it- between working out surplus words, and the dawning realization (thanks to the manuscripts Mister Graves has lent him) that the convoluted Puritan writing style he’s used to, gleaned from so many religious texts and Ma's preaching, is not the norm- takes more time. He’s still bent over the desk, jotting down a last fractured thought with one hand and hastily shoving his inkwell away with the other when Tina is ready.

"Are you new in the department? Goldstein, you didn't tell me you had a new partner. I can see you're the department's golden-haired veela now, but I didn't think they'd put you on rookie training." The man (an Auror, Credence is sure, by the leather overcoat he wears) has an easy stance despite the judgement in his tone, his hands tucked into the loops of his belt straps.

"Credence is Head Auror Graves' ward. He's shadowing me today and um," Tina flounders a little, she's not good at lying, it's how Credence ended up here to begin with instead of over in London with Mister Scamander after all, "He's consulting on a case for me. Credence, this is Auror Penn."

"Pleasure to meet you. I've been on a case over on the West Coast, so this is the first I'm hearing of this. Graves got himself a ward?"

"You'll have to ask him about it, Penn; we're going over to the Infirmary to take an interview." Tina tugs on Credence's sleeve and they are off without Credence even needing to say one word, much to his relief. "Penn isn't bad, but I'll never know how he managed to make it up to Investigations. I mean he wasn't that bad in school, fellow Thunderbird, but he gets turned around pretty easy."

Felicity Langley is sitting up in a green painted cot when they're shown into the room, and she's not at all the kind of person Credence would have imagined embroiled in the plot, her complexion similar to Auror Potter's with dark tan skin and hair dyed a soft blonde cut in a style just like Queenie's. She looks up to Tina vacantly for a minute before recognition flits across her features, "You're Queenie's sister."

"Yes that's me, this is my friend Credence. Would you mind if we asked you some questions?"

"I told them, I don't – I don't really remember anything, not for the past week at least. I remember picking up my laundry, and going around to get my paycheck." She puts a hand to her temple as if it hurts. There isn't a remnant on her skin, nothing so tangible as that. No bonemeal dirt, no impression in the veins. She doesn't start away when Credence comes quietly to stand by her bedside, doesn't draw away when he curls his hands around the metal guards to the bed.

"Did you have anyone take an interest in you lately that hadn't before?" Tina asks.

"I can't remember. Faces, they're – I can’t, they're blurry now. I'm trying." Distress coats her voice like thick paint, like tar. It licks up Credence's spine.

"It's okay, just breathe." He murmurs and she reaches out and curls her hand around his where it's gripped to the bed rail.

"Mama used to tell me that when I'd skin my knee: just breathe through it." Soft as cotton her voice, she draws her hand away and the Obscurus flicks back into him. "I'm sorry I can't remember." She wants to cry, but she’s being brave. He knows the weight of her pain, for he’s born it before.

"It's okay. Missus Tina, we should let her rest." Credence draws away from the bed and then out into the hall, Tina on his heels. He turns, rubbing his palms against his slacks as if they burn, "The same cursemaker."

"I'm not sure that's the right term for it, but you're sure?"

"Yes."

"What's it like?" Tina's curiosity makes him nervous, but glancing at her shows no judgement on her open features. Investigations suits her, wanting to figure things out and having the courage to get into trouble for it, "It doesn't hurt you, does it? If it hurts I'll never ask you to do it again, and you shouldn't force yourself to."

He shakes his head. They're paused at an open bank of windows on the infirmary floor now. Credence had been in hospital a few times to volunteer, and it has a different feeling than the wizarding equivalent. Here it is stillness and silence, magically so, and there is a scent of herbs instead of chloride of lime. Scourgify probably took care of inconvenient messes.

They're rather high up: he can see the tops of buildings below them, pigeons on the ledge, "It doesn't hurt, but it's strange. Like a whisper, but not one you can hear. It doesn't feel like anything lives inside of it, it just echoes around and then sometimes I'm the echo. Like there isn't anything to me but the dark."

Tina bites her nails, nervous and tense. She isn't afraid of him, she's afraid for him; it's still a novelty. "I thought you were dead, and when Newt showed up with you; and I just, I'm sorry Credence, I can't help but think you would have been better off with him."

"You haven't done anything to hurt me." Credence leans forward against the window, finding it's cold against his face. There is an eagle taking off from a gargoyle's open spouted mouth beneath him, and it doesn't look anything like the outside one sees looking up from the ground. Such is the wonder of magic, enchanted windows and magical infirmaries, cursework that bleaches the earth, and books with moving pictures. "It's sort of like tasting something, the cursework is, like it tastes a particular way, but it's not an actual taste."

"It sounds like getting hit by a jinx that messes up your senses." Tina pats his arm gently.

"The bars that were used against Mister Graves had the faintest taste of it, and many more too."

Tina moves to sit with her hip against the window, "Like there were other people who worked on the curse?"

"Yes, the taste of it was there but not that alone. But the cursework in the park, and the one on Miss Langely had nothing else, like the difference between bone broth and bean soup."

"So we're probably looking for a supporter of Grindelwald working alone, or at least doing the cursework alone." Tina pushes off the windowsill and tugs at his sleeve, drawing him along the hallway again. "Someone with access to MACUSA employees, who knew Graves' movements."

Credence had never asked, and he didn't feel right asking Tina now, but he wonders suddenly how it was Mister Graves had been taken to begin with. They must have been tracking him for some time to know he'd frequented that particular park.

What if, and his stomach turned at the consideration, the police officer was an unfortunate victim of circumstance, there at just the right time to send them off, but also there when whomever showed up next came to check on the tripped warding? What if they'd been the intended victims?

Tina is smart, and Mister Graves is too; they must have already come to that conclusion. Which means however circular the manner of death, he's responsible for another person's lost life. Certainly Congressman Day was wrong about the Obscurus being involved, but he's not entirely wrong. If it hadn't been for Credence, they never would have been in that park to begin with.

"Tina?"

"Uh huh?"

"I'm worried for Mister Graves," he remembers the President telling him, paramount to a promise, if he thought help was needed to request it, "Those wards were for him, and the curseworker is targeting him, his office, his apparition points."

"I'll see what I can do. I don't think he'd appreciate an armed guard, but maybe we can just claim you need help with your lessons or something. Queenie and I could keep an eye out."

"I do want to learn house-cleaning spellery."

"Charms, they're called charms." Tina laughs softly.

Credence works over his report while Tina writes a few more memos. Queenie comes in, her overcoat on, fur at her collar and sleeves; she is so elegant and refined. The faces in the bullpen switch out, aurors changing shifts, and Tina gets a few more memos in through the tube, sends off her responses in return.

"Ever played Cat's Cradle, honey?" Queenie asks him when he's embedded in the veiled lust of King Arthur's court.

He shakes his head and she brings out some of her knitting yarn, weaves their fingers together with the strands and teaches him rhymes.

Mister Graves is the sound of click tap click – Credence musses up the twist of fingers, "Done for today. We convene again tomorrow morning. I'm afraid you'll have to be with Auror Goldstein again, Credence." He pauses and nods his head toward Queenie who must read from him what she's looking for, for he goes unaccosted.

"Are they making it hard on the President, Sir?" Tina begins to put her things into a soft green suitcase.

"Get the evening edition of The Ghost and read about it. Ready to go, Credence?"

Credence stands, hands fidgeting with his bag strap, the indentations of the yarn still leaving soft impressions in his skin, "Mister Graves, sir?" He remembers the dry humor in deep voice; if only he would be so forward, "Queenie invited us over to dinner with her and Tina tonight, if you'd like?"

Mister Graves nods slowly, glancing to Queenie, who looks angelic, and Tina, who looks to be floundering and shooting her sister a desperate look. "Is that what you'd like, Credence?"

"Yes sir."

Mister Graves sweeps his arm in an arch, "Then lead on." He puts his hand to Credence's back as they're drawing out, and Credence feels himself relax even after hearing Tina whispering heatedly at her sister about how they're not allowed men in their flat, remember. He just can't help it, Mister Graves is safer with them, with others who have a mastery on their magic.

Mister Graves is very well humored about having to sneak past Mrs. Esposito and is, to Credence's not quite surprise, very good at sneaking. They hang their robes up by the door and Mister Graves sits at the kitchen table like he's completely comfortable visiting illicit locations. He has to pull the chair out beside him with a foot and tip Credence into it with a twist of his wand just to get him to sit.

It is warm, small, filled to the very brim with things that show the life and love of their owners, and Credence has a permanent sensation of low grade panic the entire time he's watching them make dinner.

"Water okay?" Queenie pours him some before he can answer.

They eat pork roast with rosemary potatoes and thick gravy. Dessert is an apple tart with ice cream, and Credence feels like he's dreaming. The panic recedes with the filling of his stomach – and to be completely truthful, the draping of Mister Graves' arm along the back of Credence's chair, hand resting warm weight against his shoulder.

"So then, while Tina can fit more on a memo than a body should, repeat for me what happened when you went to the park."

Tina and Credence work together to fill in the events of the day, from the interrupted interview that morning to the assistance of Aurors Potter and Rose in the park, and then to Director Lopez' involvement and onward to Credence's reading of the curses.

"I'll have to write to Mister Scamander about that; there's nothing in the notes he left for Credence on it." Mister Graves doesn't question the validity of Credence's claims, though, just as Tina had implied he wouldn't. It pools warmth through Credence, to be trusted, to have his input valued.

Mister Graves finishes up the night by withdrawing from his briefcase a single roll of scroll, "Goldstein this is a list of my frequent apparition points. I would appreciate if you worked this yourself and pulled in only Potter and Rose if needed."

Tina nods, sneaking them back out quietly, Credence cringing with every creak of the stairs down.

Outside the night has turned sharply cold, their breath puffing out in front of them. Mister Graves draws his arm carefully around Credence, tugging him in for preparation to apparate, but instead they begin to walk onward down the street, dimly illuminated under the pool of streetlamps. Even now the city isn't quiet, music filtering down from open windows, cars in the distance, a hum of life unconcerned with the darkness of night. It is ungodly in its own way, to make the day stretch farther than the hours the Lord allowed, to take that soft law and bend it to man’s will till it broke.

"Mister Graves?"

"Your voice is like a balm to me after the day I've had, Credence; if it's in my power to give what you ask I'll do it a thousand times over." The sigh Mister Graves breathes, heavy and filled with goodly relief turns a flush to Credence's cheeks.

"Is there a spell to make light?"

"There are a few ways to magically make light, contraptions too, but the easiest and most prolific method is the lumos charm."

"Show me?" Credence's request receives instantaneous response. They apparate between steps, the doorman greeting them with a jaunty wave of the cap. Credence finds himself tucked closer to Mister Graves in the elevator and then down the hall to his apartment.

The lights stay out after they enter. Credence can barely see save for the glint of light from the hallway sneaking under the door, the reflections cast off the metal locks as they slip into place. Maybe Mister Graves can see better, for he reaches out with assurance to slip his hand against Credence's hip and draw him close, till Credence can steal from the man's warmth. "Lumos." The softest whisper, although Credence is sure Mister Graves can do the spell without it.

He's blinded for just a moment by the soft warmth of golden light; it illuminates the tip of Mister Graves' wand like a torch held by a police officer, or better, a lantern held aloft.

He looks so tired from across the distance of that light, the shadows of his face gaunt. He is no less beautiful to Credence, who presses closer until he can hear the faintest hum from the wand.

John 1:5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Credence presses onward until Mister Graves has to break the spell, but his vision is still lit up by it, impressions of white spaces in the black of the night around them. Mister Graves must slip his wand away, for when he tangles his hand into Credence's hair it's without an encumbrance, Queenie's ribbon pulled free.

"I'm cold, sir." It's not a lie, not really, he wants the embrace from the park when Mister Graves had taken him in his arms and thought his shivering was from the cold and moved to warm him with his body. He wants so much that it is a light in the darkness, it is lumos in the turning pit of him, a spark in the obscurus.

He can feel, for just a breath's width of time, the impression of Mister Graves' rough jaw against his cheek, the heat of his breath against his hair, and then he's drawing away. It is, for that moment of time, the most passionate embrace Credence has ever felt in his life, and his body thrums with it. "To bed, then. It'll be warmest for you under the blankets."

A sinner's heart, a sinful proclamation upon the very rotten core of him. He buries it down, but it's still there under all the layers. He knows where it would be warmest; it's not in his borrowed bed.

"Go clean up and get ready for bed, I'll get the fireplace in your room kindled."

"Yes sir."

The lights turn up with a flick of Mister Graves hand, and a snap of his fingers has the water hot in the bathroom too. Credence readies himself for bed when the door is shut for him.

Or rather, he tries to ready himself and half-dresses before he stands at the sink, hands braced against it, looking at the tangle of his hair in his face, the red of his own lips, the unhealthy pale of his skin. He is past the denial now. He is already a sinner: his immortal soul has the taint of death upon it, but what’s more is the witchcraft. He can't pretend he's good like Tina or Queenie, who were born to this and have known nothing but their craft, have done nothing but good with it. Credence is damned not for the magic but for the unholy want of it, the tainted promise of the Devil's arts that had initially been promised him.

He'd asked a man weeks ago who wore another's face like a mask if he were a Freak, if he were wrong, and that man, He had told Credence no, he wasn't, that he was natural, and good, and that they'd stand in the shadows no longer.

Credence doesn't care about the shadows so much, they make the play of light that much more intoxicating, but he cares about Mister Graves, and Mister Graves' soul, the goodness of him.

He doesn't know how much of this is his own want, he doesn't know what he's doing, but he wants, and he's going to hell anyway.

So he just has to be careful with it. He dresses and he holds himself, walking the hallway quiet as he can to stand in the doorway to watch. He just has to be careful. He can want, sick slow suffering, let it parch his throat, let him hunger for the touch, and he can partake of what he's given, he'll allow it, and pray all the more for it.

He'd wanted to be a sinner by taking up a wand, by learning magic, he wanted to be a witch, and Ma was right about him. So he's an invert, watching Mister Graves bent over the fire, the strong curve of his back, the stance of his legs pressed apart, the coaxing of the flames. He'll be this, he'll embrace it, and he won't let it touch Mister Graves. He'll be good.

Mister Graves rights himself, turns and smiles at Credence. The covers are turned down for him already, the room toasty warm compared to the hall. Credence sits on the edge of the bed, pulls his legs up, breathes shallow when Mister Graves is tugging the blanket up around him. "We'll probably get a frost tonight."

The pillow is cool against his cheek and he watches carefully as Mister Graves kneels next to the bed, "Did you pray nightly when you were a boy, Mister Graves?"

"Credence, let's not dwell on how little religion I followed. I was a hellion."

"You were praying in Latin, weren't you? The first night we said prayer together."

"The Lord's Prayer. I have in my stock a very limited number of prayers, and I cannot confess that I ever actually gave penance for anything, at least not and meant it."

Credence reaches out, and in a gentle reversal of their roles he is the one to slip his hand through Mister Graves' hair, messing up product and careful styling. The man permits it, eyes dark, a quirk of amusement, "Give us our prayer, Credence." As much as Credence is the one to touch, all of the command is in the man beneath him.

"Lord God in Heaven, remind us of your Grace lest we forget it, and take us into Your arms for we know the sweetness of Your love, and teach us to give it to our fellow men, teach us to be good godly men, to love like Your love, to bear the weaknesses in ourselves and to safeguard those of our brothers and sisters."

He moves his hand from graying hair to strong jaw, trails and then catches his hand with Mister Graves' where it rests on the quilted bedding. "Make our hearts glad with the work before them, the work of tending the gardens of others, the work of building bridges and loving without the want of return."

Mister Graves' lowers his head, eyes so dark, the mischief in them has drained, and he looks tired again, rests his lips against Credence's knuckles and leaves them there, the warmth of his breath. "Lord, please defend us, hold us safe in Your arms, rise us up and keep us, keep Mister Graves for me."

"Credence." Mister Graves speaks measured and clipped, sits up, "You knew Tina followed us home, you knew she apparated after us, didn't you?"

"Lord God, keep us in Your arms and help us to serve others, to take all burdens."

Mister Graves stands, frustration in the lines of his body, but he hasn't broken their joined hands, hasn't jerked away, "You're being ridiculous."

"Amen."

"Amen." Mister Graves parrots, compulsion maybe, he sits on the edge of the bed, draws Credence's hand up to his lips, kisses his knuckles, breathes a sigh against them, "Credence, are you worried about me?"

"I can’t protect you from Him." Credence isn't sure if he means the Devil or Grindelwald, or both. 

"I can protect myself well enough."

Credence sits up in the bed. He's taller than Mister Graves even like this, sitting in bed together, "How were you taken before?" 

Mister Graves' face turns stormy, then it turns to stone. Credence is terrified but he doesn't withdraw completely. "It's in an interview scroll. I'll give it to you tomorrow." 

"Please, Mister Graves." Credence can see it, what his gentle plea does, remembers and wonders if Mister Graves regrets now telling him to take. If he thought it would have led them here, would he still have told him to? 

"Coming out of a speakeasy, down in Harlem, no-maj place, one of the less respectable ones. You have to use a certain amount of finesse to keep the no-maj from noticing when you're dueling for your life. Or so I thought – I guess I was right anyway." Mister Graves closes his eyes, "Outran him for three blocks, but it didn't end up mattering in the end. All he had to do was wait for me to try and capture him." 

"Did you know it was Him?" 

"My boy, when you're fighting one of the most powerful Dark Wizards of your age, you figure it out fast enough. I got stupid, I got cocky, it isn't going to happen again, but as much as the worry you and the Goldsteins have over me is touching, I'm not about to allow you to endanger yourselves for me." He reaches out with his free hand, tucks Credence's hair back away from his face. "I'll be informing Auror Goldstein by eagle very shortly that she's to leave off tailing people until she has more experience in it." 

"I'm, I'm not sorry." Credence decides. 

Mister Graves looks at him, and for a moment, just one short instance of time, he looks like he's broken apart, "God Credence, my lily among the brambles, I never thought you would be, gentle boy."

Credence navigates the entanglement of words and emotions, their joined hands, the warmth of Mister Graves' fingers when they track his cheek. "You do know other prayers." 

Mister Graves snorts, "Your ma let you read that one? I'm certainly surprised." 

"The covenant between the church and the Lord is very important. The allegorical relationship to the marriage between man and woman, and the marriage of us all to our Lord Christ through the church is a lesson we must all keep in our hearts, lest we fall to sin. The lesson we may take from the Song of Songs is to keep ourselves pure and clean for Heaven just as the woman sings to the daughters of Jerusalem; to let love grow as it will and to not allow lust to overtake the purity of the marital bed." 

Mister Graves breathes out a careful sound, a shivering sigh almost, his eyes dark, and his lips a thin smile. "Good things come to those who wait?" 

He nods: succinct but accurate. 

"It's time for you to sleep, Credence. I'd like you to practice on your levitation charm tomorrow, there's a training range and Tina can help you focus on your control." 

"I finished my report."

"I never doubted you would. How close are you to finishing the text now?" 

Credence considers, "I think there are perhaps three chapters remaining." 

"After we finish your first year basics I'm going to jump you up to much higher course work. You're an adult, you can handle heavier subject matter. You’re already working with curses far beyond any schoolbook."

"Tina offered to help teach me charms."

Mister Graves doesn't quite realize the manipulation until he's already nodded agreement to it. His eyes narrow, paranoia is well-founded, he has survived this far because of it and now he must learn of Credence's very particular betrayals, "Credence, your use of excuses is a master craftsmen’s work. I'll permit it because honestly I would need to hire a tutor otherwise, and I don't trust you with anyone else." A sigh, "Except as we've already shown, Tina Goldstein and her sister, so who better to supplement your education when I prove inadequate. But don't think you're fooling me. 

"Nevermore." Credence murmurs and starts gently when Mister Graves kisses his hand again, eyes shut, the sweet passion of a suitor.

"I could never have hoped for the light I saw in your eyes before the world was taken from me to return. That it has and, even more, that you have become a young man capable of lyrical twists and playful exclamations, that you have taken the liberty to take care of me, you are my Lumos Credence, my light."

Another kiss, softer now, they part after and Mister Graves soothes him back down into the plush bedding, dims the light with a wave of his hand till the fireplace is their only illumination, auburn and orange, life-filled turning Mister Graves' tired face into a soft impression that presses delight upon Credence's heart.

"Go to sleep." Mister Graves says, pausing at the door, "I'm going to take you somewhere tomorrow before we head into the office. Would you like me to bring you the dreamless sleep potion just in case?"

"No, Mister Graves, I don't think I'll have any trouble tonight." He had been so frightened that Mister Graves would be angry, that he'd yell over the imposition and liberty Credence had taken. The relief is better than the potion could have ever been, affection instead of punishment for his insubordination.

"Me neither, my boy, sleep well." Mister Graves closes the door behind him and Credence wriggles down into the blankets all the way till they are mountains around his face and he can sleep in the shadow of their valley.

Chapter Text

Credence finds himself the first awake, and he moves quietly through the apartment, washing up, dressing, and getting himself a mug of tea. He settles at the kitchen table to read, and it's there that he's startled at mid-dawn by the tapping at the window.

Curiosity piques his interest and he goes to the window, finding on the ledge a sizable shape. ‘An owl,’ his mind supplies. It taps sharply on the window again, which is when Credence notes the bundle under its large talon. ‘The mail,’ his mind supplies too, which is fantastic but a fact he's already seen as truth. He manages the latch and opens the window inward, stepping back for the owl to hobble inside.

It looks up at him, waiting expectantly, and with trembling hands Credence reaches out to undo its burden. It allows him magnanimously to tackle the fastening and draw from it the bundle. Two letters, the thin Tuesday Morning edition of The New York Ghost, and a slip from a telegraph wire. He places them on the kitchen table and then looks to the bird. Mister Graves was right, it frosted overnight and surely it's going to begin snowing in the next few days. The cool air has come in with the post, but the bird seems to have no intentions of leaving the open window so that Credence can close it.

"He wants a treat." Mister Graves says from the doorway and Credence locates a cookie jar nearby filled with dried newts. He procures one and holds it out carefully so that the owl takes it graciously before finally flying off, thereby allowing him to shut the window.

Latching the window, he turns only to freeze half against the counter beneath it. He has in such a short time seen Mister Graves in varying stages of undress but not nearly so discomposed as now. His hair is a mess and hangs down to one side, his face unshaven and darkened by stubble, his sleep clothing comprised of an undershirt and a pair of pajama pants, over which he'd thrown a velvet robe, untied and falling off one shoulder. Credence struggles to drag his eyes away. It is indecent somehow to see him so taken apart; he wants to spend all day like this.

Mister Graves slips past him to collect the mail and sorts it while he flicks his wand around to start his coffee. An extra flick turns the oven on and cracks the door, heat for the chilly room. "A response from Scamander already," Mister Graves flips over the telegraph "He says 'I don't know' and promises to write a longer letter about it." Mister Graves' lips twitch, "It would be like Tina to attach herself to someone capable of spinning a lack of knowledge on something into a dissertation."

"If I write a letter today, would you send it to him for me?"

"Of course, Credence." Mister Graves sips his coffee, leans with hip canted against the counter nearest the stove. Credence finds himself at spatial opposites, completely dressed but also rather cold by the window. "What sort of things would you need in order to make something like breakfast?"

"Mister Graves, have you always eaten at restaurants?"

A soft sigh, "No. You see, I had a house elf, but they've been missing since the incident and I'm hesitant to go looking for her."

Credence makes an internal reminder to look up what a house elf is, but he thinks maybe it might be the same creature he saw yesterday in the evidence room, "It depends on what you'd like to eat for breakfast."

"Eggs, sausage, tomatoes, maybe a hash, the usual."

For Credence these were not usual things, but they would have to be now, "If we get up early tomorrow I can go to the market to purchase what I'd need."

"You need not feel you owe it to me, but I wondered if doing something would make you more comfortable."

Credence sighs in relief, "Yes sir, and it's not good to eat outside exclusively. Brings on sickness, Ma said."

"For once I will allow that your Ma is right." Mister Graves does not look happy about it though.

Mister Graves dresses after some of his coffee has emboldened him. Credence picks at the paper, reading about the further scandal in Congress, which seems to have been front page fodder for the past few weeks. Seraphina Picquery sits with chin held high and Mister Graves at her right side, right where he has belonged all along, Credence notes with pride. International Representatives Call for Impeachment Credence reads.

On the third page are advertisements for something called Spell-o-tape and a course in antiquated languages. He reads about something called Quidditch that he figures is a sport of some kind, and the latest craze in fashion (no-maj sport clothing, which goes some way to explaining Director Frost's fashion sensibilities.)

Mister Graves looks so put together when he comes back in, doing up his cufflinks, that it just embeds into Credence how tantalizing that glimpse of him all mussed had really been, something to be cherished, to be kept safe. Exactly as Mister Graves would have looked had they woken up together after sharing a bed.

Abomination surely, but maybe they could just share a bed and it wouldn't be a sin, sleeping wasn't a sin. The softest sigh, dreamlike, Romans 1:27. And the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

"I haven't seen you look quite that serene. Not to complain, but what has you so content my boy?" Mister Graves draws behind him, Queenie's ribbon in his hand, and he tames Credence's hair for him.

A dark flush spreads against his skin all the way beneath his collar, "Nothing in particular, sir."

They apparate three times, each progressively north until the prediction of snow is made true. A disillusionment spell glints golden around them. The house is large, it has an equally large yard, there are trees, and in one is a swing. Mister Graves jumps the fence, his robes furling around him dramatically. He helps Credence over it, and they walk through fresh snow to the lit dining room window. Credence covers his mouth, keeps down the sound that threatens.

Modesty is sitting between two younger children. There is fruit on top of her oatmeal, real fruit, and she has a large pink ribbon tied into her hair. Credence's tears are cold on his cheeks.

Mister Graves follows him out, around the house, into the orchard. "We have people checking on her. She has a trust fund set aside." The words make Credence dizzy and he leans against a tree, closing his eyes. He isn't left there long, Mister Graves turns him around, pulls him into an embrace. "She'll be fine, Credence."

Credence shakes his head, "It's another responsibility I've shed, and I shouldn't. She's my responsibility, she's my sister. I should be supporting her."

"Credence, you couldn't even support yourself in either world right now." The truth hurts, it twists him up inside. Mister Graves is almost rocking him, almost cradling him.

"I did this to us, they took her memory of me away, took it all away; I did that. It's my fault. I should be taking care of her."

"Neither of you would have ever been with that woman if the system hadn’t failed you so spectacularly, if I hadn’t failed you, and you need to take care of yourself before you care for a child, Credence."

It starts to snow again, dampness on their shoulders, on Credence's face; he's stopped crying, "She looks happy." She did, smiling and well-fed, and no longer washed-out, subdued and tormented till there was just the light spark of her defiance. "She won't get beatings here?"

"Never."

Credence turns his gaze over Mister Graves' shoulder to the warm house, the smoke from the chimney, "Thank you."

"You're not abandoning her, Credence."

But it feels like he is, like he's taking the chance they were never given. He's the one who gets to be the witch after all, and Modesty is left here. He can't just forget her. He can't take her with him, though. For one, he couldn't ask that of Mister Graves. It's true that he can't even support himself right now, and Modesty only had fear for him after the church. He'd become the boogeyman, the dark, the witch. It would be better for her to forget it, he knew, to forget him. Let her grow up normal; let her grow up without that fear or hatred. But she had been his sister for so long, had held his hand and they’d been family, it hurts just as much as all his other loves.

He can't bring himself to go back to the window, but Mister Graves seems to understand and he apparates them someplace nearby if the air is any indication. There are boats coming in with the morning haul, seagulls shrieking. A small restaurant with a sign displaying a fish in a cauldron is their destination. Credence can tell it's for the magical community by the antiquated furniture, the lanterns hanging over rough-hewn tables. There is one waiter/chef/proprietor, and a handful of elderly witches are gathered around a large fireplace as the only other inhabitants.

Mister Graves orders them breakfast, and Credence tries not to look like he's too overwhelmed by everything.

It's perhaps even more of a shock to him than the existence of hidden places was in New York. The restaurant is right there on the harbor line, in view of no-maj and the whole sea, and yet inside it is so undoubtedly magical. "Had a case up here once: someone took off with a whole fishing vessel into the air. Took us forever to track them down and obliviate all the onlookers." Mister Graves leans back in his chair, crosses his legs, "I ended up ordering breakfast from here every day for a week."

"Do you travel very often?"

"Once a month or so now. It’ll be less with Lopez taking on my Directorial duties; used to be more when I was just an Auror."

"I'd never left New York, you know. When we went to West Virginia it was the first time I'd ever left the city."

"New York is a whole world on its own, probably even more so now that you're seeing both sides of it."

Credence nods. He could find no better explanation, a mirror or hidden room, and he was finally able to cross between these two worlds at his leisure. He'd always known inside that Ma had been partway right, always believed there could be something as impossible as magic, but having access to that was something completely different.

"Is that robe going to be warm enough for you with snow coming?" Mister Graves probably knows before Credence even answers that he's going to say yes regardless. "We'll get you a thicker one tonight."

Breakfast is some sort of fish porridge Credence manages to consume more by the grace of God than actual desire for it. He much better favors the honey cakes that come with it, dripping sticky as they are, forbidden and delicious. He licks the remnants from his fingers, Mister Graves watching him with a neutral expression.

"What did it look like, a whole boat floating around?"

"He'd done some rather ill-implemented invisibility charms, so you'd have half a ship or a sail or a bucket on a rope just dangling. It was ridiculous, inspired by a rash of stupidity that took place a few years prior in 1897. Down in Iowa and over in Texas we had two wizards build similar flying contrivances out of boats and take them on a joyride. Do you know how hard it is to explain away roof damage caused by an anchor?"

"Does that happen a lot?"

"No, thankfully, more thanks to our laws against it. They were both found to just be stupid rather than malicious and had been in correspondence with each other on the techniques for charm-work concerning the incidents. Heavy fines and a few years in prison."

"The penalty for maliciously breaking Rappaport's law is death?" It's not in his first year history book, but of course it wouldn't be.

Mister Graves nods carefully, "Grindelwald sentenced Goldstein and Scamander to the death penalty while he was wearing my face."

"Have you, have you ever done that?"

"It's not for me to do. We have hearings, legal precedence to follow. I'm not a judge and executioner. I've killed, but not like that." Mister Graves pushes the basket of honey cakes over, "Hand me your fish in trade." It is an effective end to the conversation.

They don't apparate to the same place as usual, instead they arrive a block away from the Woolworth building, and they walk to work with Mister Graves discussing means for Credence to potentially focus his charm work. There is a definite difference in the tempo of the floor when they hit Investigations, a hum of energy that has Mister Graves upping the pace.

The young auror Credence had met in the diner with the heavy facial scarring waylays them, first to note Mister Graves' arrival. She pushes a reprint of the morning issue of The Ghost into Mister Graves' hands and he reads swiftly. Mister Graves flipping the paper over to follow the story allows Credence to read the upside-down headline Park Killer Sends Letter to Ghost Reporter. Credence tilts his head to the side.

Tina is there then, "I can't believe they published it, they're hindering an investigation!"

"This just hit?" Mister Graves checks the time on the issue, but of course it would have; they'd already received the first printing, the same old scandal as before. It seems now they have a new topic.

"Director Lopez is on a firecall with the editor-in-chief." The other auror says.

Mister Graves flips through the newspaper with subdued movements, careful and precise, ultimately neutral. He reads the letter, "Grindelwald's propaganda." He carefully places the paper back together and hands it out, "Thank you Auror Lindt." That it's not something for their department to handle unless told otherwise by the Director is made clear by his reaction, and Mister Graves gives them no reason to loiter, in fact mostly reasons not to, so the buzz and bustle dies down.

Credence fidgets beside Tina's desk; he can remember Modesty's hair ribbon, how the rosy apple of her cheeks shone healthy, loved. Mister Graves captures his wrist, gives it a squeeze, "Consultant Barebone, you realize that's what they're calling you now?"

Credence flushes, "Tina said it, I'm not sure I like the man she was speaking to."

"And do you like me?"

Credence almost bites his cheek, "Very much sir, I'll pray for you all day."

"Yes, I'm sure god will keep me if you ask him nice enough, Credence. It's worked on me at least." He strokes his thumb down into the center crease of Credence's palm, and then the kiss of hand to hand is done and he's drawing away, "Auror Goldstein, a word." It's a demand, and Credence tries not to feel guilty about the trouble he's gotten Tina into.

Tina comes back alone biting her lip and looks awful. She sits down at her desk heavily, so Credence sits in the chair he'd been sat in yesterday and waits. He doesn't have long to wait. "He said I was really bad at tailing and terrible at silencing charms."

Credence feels like he's the terrible one, but morally and as a friend, not with charms, except he’s that too, "I'm sorry Mis- Tina, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything I'm just so-" she cuts him off by taking his arm and squeezing gently.

"Oh no, he didn't actually tell me not to do it, so I'm just going to get better at it till he can't yell at me about it anymore because he can't catch me at it."

Credence swallows, mouth open, numb shock.

"Let's go practice your charms work, I'm waiting for Director Lopez to tell me if I can go shake down the reporter who received the letter.”

Chapter Text

The training room is fitted with metal and wood mannequins with scorch marks and heavier battle damage, one of which is missing an arm completely. It's clearly meant for keeping an auror trained up in defensive magic, but they make do. Tina puts a quill in the middle of the floor.

"I haven't worked with something so delicate yet." Credence carefully retrieves his wand and holds it in his hand, mentally recalling Mister Graves' advice on stance.

"What did he have you practice on?"

Credence watches her face turn from curious to politely shocked as he explains. "Well, feathers are traditionally what we learn off of." She states.

The quill floats, the mannequins float, Tina floats. "Oh, I see." She frowns looking thoughtful.

They work on focusing for a while, Tina helping him to block out much of their surroundings, but he still cannot manage to levitate one singular feather. Anything in his visual range lifts regardless. "I'm a terrible wizard." He sighs.

"No, that's not it at all, it's going fine Credence." Tina promises, but they're still stuck with a cluster of floating objects when a knock comes to the door and Tina is summoned to the Director's office.

She takes Credence along, and he finds that it's down the hall from Mister Graves' own office, largely makeshift it seems, with a desk and a cluster of filing cabinets tucked in around a window. "I hit them with some shit about inciting riots, and they're being cooperative," Director Lopez explains, playing with a small glass ball, the insides a misty gold smoke, "You can go down there and snoop around. Head Auror Graves is in congressional meetings till lunch, or he'd likely tell you the same. Be sure you get the letter as evidence. It's directly related to your case, so I'm not going to turn it over to Security."

They're dismissed shortly after Tina gives her assurance she'll send a report right away. When they return to get Tina's coat, there is a very large bird on her desk. Credence marvels at it, eyes wide.

Tina, in contrast, groans and tugs at the huge beak, manhandling the bird across the length of the floor to a window, where she topples it out after retrieving the package tied to it. "Newt sends albatrosses, like that's normal." Credence wonders if she realizes how soft she sounds. He watches her open the package, inside is a bar of chocolate, a letter, a larger bundle of papers, and a small metal bar.

Tina splits the chocolate with him, takes the time to shift through the papers, which appear to be correspondence not for them but for Mister Graves, and from the letter she deciphers that the metal bar is for Credence.

"He says it's to ground you." She shrugs.

Credence picks it up, doesn't feel very much concerning it at all, and puts it into the pocket of his robes.

They drop off the papers along with a memo for Mister Graves, and Tina gets the address for the newspaper before they head out. Tina has marginally more respect for cars than Mister Graves has, and they dip in and out of traffic for some time before they're in among a great deal of warehouses. Credence knows one of the ones in the area had housed their congregation for a time before the landlord had rented it out from under them for a higher rate as storage for an import company.

Ma always had much to say about foreign commerce for a few months that Credence hadn't really taken to heart.

"Here we are." Tina points them in front of a tall brick building; the windows are papered all up with newsprint. Not the magical kind, but the kind that Credence usually stuffed the bedding with every few months. Or had before; he doubted there was anything in Mister Graves' mattresses but feathers.

On the stoop to the building is a single man in a printer's apron of the kind that Credence well recognized from his own work in the Second Salem presses. "You'll be looking for the front office, miss, we're the printers." He points them further down the street and Tina thanks him. The difference between the buildings is hardly noticeable. Save for a small plaque next to the large wooden doors proclaimed the building as The New York Ghost est. 1654, the building looks just as abandoned as the rest of the block, but Tina takes a bracing breath and pushes the door inward.

The noise inside is deafening, and they tumble in together to a sort of waiting room made from bracketed-off chairs strung through with a cord. A witch is sat at a desk as a secretary and she greets them with a wave and some form of verbal affirmation – not that Credence can hear her over the din.

All around there are fireplaces with people shouting into them, crystal balls placed precariously on the edges of desks, and owls and more owls zooming by overhead, joined by quite a few seabirds and eagles too. Tina shouts to be heard, and as Credence cannot make out anything being said he just sticks close to her and tries to take it all in.

After some running around they're finally shown to a desk jammed up against the wall, looking to be prime real estate in the arrangement of office space. There is a taped-in outline on the ground, and as soon as they step over it there is blessed silence, the noise from outside the bubble reduced to a murmur. Credence casts his eyes about and notes that many of the desks have similar barriers of tape in use.

At the desk is a man perhaps a few years older than them, in his late twenties with sharp eyes and a piece of paper stuck to his jaw where he'd no doubt cut himself shaving. "MACUSA? I figured I'd see one of you down here today. Look, we printed the letter just as I received it, we're completely on board with anything you ask, and I've been told by my editor to impress upon you that we are behind MACUSA a hundred percent." It sounds entirely fake even to Credence, and like the man has spent a good deal of the morning being blamed for things he'd been told to do. Credence can sympathize.

"Mister Fox, do you have the letter present?"

He takes it from a drawer. It's been placed carefully into a paper envelope, and he holds it out, "We had Danny, our Cursebreaker, look it over, but it's just paper."

Credence notes on the wall behind the man's chair hang a good deal of diplomas and awards and a print of a painting, a beautiful woman looking desperately sad sitting in a boat amongst the reeds. It's not a magical print, but it's haunting just the same.

"We're taking this for evidence." Tina informs him, "What brought it?"

"Nothing brought it; someone slipped it under my door in the middle of the night. I was a little late starting the day, my cat tore up the wallpaper again and I had to spell it back together, so I didn't see it till I was getting out the door. No envelope, it was just folded over and slid under."

"Have you written any pieces on the Dark Wizard Grindelwald or his supporters before? Anything that would stand you out?"

"Look, bird, I'm usually on the art beat, the last big piece I did that even touched on politics or dark wizardry was that silent auction Congressman Day held to benefit war orphans."

Tina bites her lip, "Thanks, Mister Fox. We'll expect any further correspondence you get along this vein to be reported to congress before the public, of course."

He snorts his disdain, "Of course. I think that's been made explicitly clear."

As they're moving to leave, Tina tucking the letter into her coat carefully, Mister Fox leans forward to prod him sharply in the chest, "You know, not every paining has to move. I saw you judging my print. Don't think I don't get plenty of shit from people around here. No-maj artwork is just as valid and leagues beyond us in freedom of expression."

Tina drags Credence back, "He wasn't thinking that at all."

"Yeah, sure, art lover? Okay then, who is the lady in the painting?" Mister Fox demands and Credence falters, face flushed, recoiling with his shoulders hunched, his gaze drops.

"You're a terrible bully. Come on, Credence." Tina bites out viper sharp and goes to lead Credence onward but Mister Fox skirts around the desk suddenly, excitement barely subdued.

"Credence Barebone?"

He can't breathe, his chest feels so tight. He's tired, bone deep tired, it's not loud, no, but something is turning in the center of his chest and it hurts, his hands shake.

Tina pushes Mister Fox out of the way and drags Credence along and outside, and then down the street, and before they've stopped they're at the waterfront. Credence presses his hands to his face; it feels hot.

"They don't know you're the Obscurus, but they know you were involved. I'm sure you've seen in the papers. You're a subject of mystery."

"Mister Graves hasn't been letting me read them."

Tina considers this, "Probably for the best. I likely just made you off like a MACUSA informant."

Credence considers the informants he's met so far. This doesn't seem bad at all, and much better than the mysterious Obscurus. "Who was the lady in the painting?"

Tina tilts her head, "I didn't even see it, what did it look like?" Credence explains, briefly, with his limited artistic vocabulary, "Sounds like the Lady of Shalott, she's in that book about Arthur you were reading yesterday."

"I don't believe I've gotten to her yet."

"You'll have time. I need to get this letter through to check for curses or charms, and then I'll have to write up my report and start making up a list of which apparition points to check for wards first."

Tina had not been exaggerating when she'd told him he'd have time. He's far into the text, the sounds of the bullpen dulling to a hum with the words filling him up, when a hand skims the expanse of his shoulders steady and assured. He knows before it's even gripped his arm who it belongs to, and leans back partially so he can look up at Mister Graves leaning over him.

"Come away with me, we're going to sneak out." Mister Graves whispers, a slip of humor by way of the brightness in his eyes, "Goldstein, I'm stealing my ward back for an hour while we're on lunch break." He states louder, less conspiratorially.

"Code word." Tina orders, not even looking up from her papers.

"Pepper Penguins."

"It's a candy," Tina explains, "They're my favorite."

Mister Graves offers his arm and Credence takes it, keeping step with him easily.

"Is it pressing work in the hearings, Mister Graves?"

"I do very little save for support Picquery in her arguments. It was easier working in your favor, the aggression was clear to trace. With the President it's far more complicated. Even allies have raised questions against her." They go down the elevator in silence before Mister Graves continues, "She's had a rough time in office, and while sometimes seemingly cruel, she has made the best decisions possible with the resources at her disposal to protect wizardry in America and our way of life." It isn't an apology, and they both can tell that Mister Graves is speaking about Picquery's order for the Obscurus to be destroyed.

An order that had been followed but not fulfilled, albeit not for lack of trying, and an order which Congress had turned against to keep Credence alive a second time when given the choice to do so.

"Many of her decisions and policies are being questioned, but as of now her leadership is firm. We're not at war, we remain unexposed, and Grindelwald awaits extradition."

"He won't be given a trial and held here?"

Mister Graves draws them across the street and further down, back along a few alleyways now that his regular apparition points are out of the question. "Honestly Credence, we don't want the responsibility. They birthed it, they can have it back."

Credence has seen a similar sentiment in wizardry from the pages of his history text, from the lessons Mister Graves has been giving whether he's meant to or not. An unspoken rule to keep one's nose out of their neighbor's business. It is at once both Biblical and not very at all.

"Mostly it's exhausting because it's boring. We all know they won't find her unfit, we all know everything that could be done to the full extent of the law has been done. It's just putting it in writing, another stacked chip against us."

"Would you like me to tell you about the newspaper office?" Credence asks, and Mister Graves sighs in such relief he knows it's just the right thing to say. He tells him about the inside of the place, the outside, about the tape barriers on the ground, about the different desks he'd seen. He speaks impartially about Mister Fox and describes the print on the wall. "Tina said it's in the book."

"Yes, that would be Elaine of Astolat. Her story is one of the sadder ones."

"Do you like the legends very much, Mister Graves?"

To this he finds himself tucked into the man's side, arms no longer linked, but with Mister Graves' hand following the curve of his hip as they walk, now between the dark passages of high towers, sentries surrounding them of steel and concrete. "You would have found it yourself, but it's actually inheritance. Percival was a knight of the round, and we're mostly named after the figures of lore in my family. There might have been some claim as to a direct line of descendants, but as I mentioned before, blood lines were my father's obsession, not mine."

"A knight," Credence considers, heart flitting wildly, "It suits you, I think."

"You know, the Nyx family claimed lineage to Morgan Le Fay; the waters of Avalon are on their house crest."

Credence considers this and is silent all the way to the restaurant of the day, a small cafe with fresh bread and thick stew. Mister Graves allows the silence to fall and it's companionable, still. Credence is so glad he's here, and when his thoughts finally settle he carefully puts down his spoon.

"Even though there is a history of dark wizards and witches, there seems to also be an intricate knot of healing magic with them. Hawthorn wands are for cursework and healing, Avalon is a place of healing, but dark families tie their names to it and it's the home to a dark witch who still seems deeply tied to wizarding folklore."

"Without the curse there's no reason for the healing word." Mister Graves explains. "It takes understanding of the disease to treat it, if we're delving further, and it's the same for the treatment of dark magic and curse-breaking." Mister Graves leans back, runs his fingers along the edge of the counter idly, "And we only know Morgan Le Fay was a truly dark witch based on who survived her. Things aren't as cut and dry as that, and I'm the villain to someone, many, to be quite honest."

"I'll keep you as the knight in my story, if it's alright with you?" Credence manages, only tripping over his words a little. He's rewarded with the clasp of Mister Graves' fingers around his wrist, a gentle whisper of pressure.

"I would carry your standard in battle, my boy."

Credence thinks that will make more sense later on, but it's said with so delicate a heat he flushes all the same.

"Finish your stew Credence." Mister Graves directs him and frees him from the press of his hand, so Credence does as he's commanded and reaffirms mentally his intent to figure out what had been meant at a later time.

As they're leaving the building, Mister Graves drags him close into a sudden apparition. Not far, Credence can actually still hear the sound of a paperboy calling out the stock market numbers in halves.

"Auror Goldstein." Mister Graves drawls. They're behind Tina, and Tina is watching the restaurant they've just left. She has a hotdog half eaten in hand, and turns a slow guilty circle.

"They, they got great hotdogs on this street, y'know?" She cringes.

Mister Graves grasps her arm and the feeling is much sharper for this apparition. He stumbles a little bit, and they come out a few blocks from the Woolworth Building in a quiet alleyway Credence thinks he got called a derogatory name here once. He'd been avoiding his mother's wrath, but there were a lot of different wraths to meet. Ma's didn't compare to a nest of older boys angry at the world and at Credence in particular.

Mister Graves gives Tina a full lecture on procedure and respect for the job. Tina fidgets from foot to foot, actually finishes her hotdog, and manages to inform Mister Graves what time it is, subsequently bringing pause to the lecture, "And my password is granny smith."

"We had an orchard, an apple orchard, when I was a boy." Mister Graves explains, "Not that I doubted it was you, Goldstein, Grindelwald would be so lucky to have someone as stubborn as you on his list of followers."

Credence is drawn to Mister Graves' side, hand against the small of his back. "You could have come and had lunch with us." He murmurs self-consciously.

Tina coughs, "I wasn't invited."

"No, you weren't." Mister Graves seems to imply something with his tone. "If I'm allowed, might I have the luxury of dining with my ward alone tonight, or should I put in reservations for your sister too?"

"Well, are you planning on stopping off a lot, we can't keep breaking curfew. Mrs. Esposito is so sweet and it makes me feel really bad."

"Porpentina Goldstein, I will put you back into wand applications; I don't care if you saved the world."

She grasps Credence's arm and tugs him along, away from the heat of that hand, custody exchanged. "You wouldn't make Credence sit down there."

Mister Graves doesn't glare but it's close to it. Credence waves his fingers at him as they're dipping around the corner, "In my prayers, sir." He watches Mister Graves' lips twitch, the light in his eyes warm.

"He's trying, it's painful to see. The only way it doesn't look like pulling off a bandage is watching him with you. I guess he probably thinks there's equivalent exchange." Tina pulls him along, not to the elevator but to the stairs, heading down to where Credence knows Queenie works.

"What do you mean?"

"I know more about him now than I did the entire time I was working under him. I knew, I mean I knew he didn't hate me, otherwise I would have been fired for that stunt I pulled on that woman – on, on your mother I mean. But he was never warm. He's trying now, whether for you or just for himself, but it's obviously hard."

Credence understands explicitly what she means now. Flushing, he keeps his opinions close to his chest, and he understands in part what Mister Graves had meant now too, carrying his standard. Well, Credence could too.

"With you he doesn't look like he's stepping on glass."

"We're alike." Credence considers how silly that must sound. He's so far away from Mister Graves, but Tina nods. She must see it too.

"Credence?" Tina starts softly, waits till they pass a group of witches along the hall, "You're okay, aren't you?"

Credence nods before it's even filtered through, he remembers Modesty and her hair ribbon, remembers Mister Graves securing his own in place. He's learning magic, he's helping people for any measure of the word, he belongs. "I am."

Chapter Text

Queenie is waiting for Credence and Tina, all smiles with a tray of cookies that Credence nibbles on, still mostly filled from lunch. Her hair looks curlier than normal, "Oh, thank you sweetheart, I have a date tonight." Queenie giggles and touches her hair carefully. "Or not really, but Tina and I are going to work on our detective skills and I wanted to primp up for it just in case your man goes someplace fancy like."

Credence starts at the reversal of the common. He's heard himself in reference as Mister Graves', not so much the other way around. The phrasing piques him. "You can't say that, it'll get him in trouble."

Queenie pinches his cheek.

The room they go to must be a storage room for the massive amounts of coffee and other drinks the MACUSA staff consume. Queenie puts a cleaning cloth down on a bunch of boxes for Credence to sit on, and he listens while Tina and Queenie discuss the apparition points, the best way to follow Mister Graves from a distance, and what the metal bar Mister Scamander had sent could possibly be used for.

"A paperweight." Tina sighs, sounding exasperated but not in a truly upset way. "Show Queenie your levitation charm, Credence."

It was also a showing off of his wand, and Queenie exclaims how beautiful it is before she is floating gently along with the mugs and a sack of coffee beans. "Oh!" She laughs, spinning weightless, held suspended.

When everything is back on the ground where it belongs Credence sighs softly, rolling his wand carefully between his palms, "Mister Graves says I need to work on my control."

"I bet you could clean the entire street outside with one scourgify." Queenie sounds like it is a personal dream.

"Or tear it apart," Tina looks guilty, "Sorry, Credence, but I'm not sure you should try scourgify until you're not super-powering things."

Credence nods. He could only imagine the damage he might cause with even the simplest spells.

"It has to be good though," Tina spoke carefully, "That you have access to your magic at all."

Credence has his own theories on this, based on Newt Scamander's notes. "I think it's because I know it's there, and it's working with me. I'm not sure if it's ever going to dissipate like Mister Scamander hoped. It's just – I'm drawing through it."

Tina tilts her head, "You mean when you're doing magic you're not taking from yourself?"

Credence shakes his head but then nods, a cringe and he tries to explain it again, "No, but yes. It is me, but it's all locked up inside, like another room in a house. The house is all me, but the room is where it is and where all the magic is."

Queenie bites her lip before speaking, "Maybe Mister Scamander meant for you to draw the spells through the metal too, maybe that's what he meant by grounding?"

They have him try it again, this time gripping the bar. The change is instantaneous as Credence can barely pick up a quill, let alone lift half the room. He's out of breath and his limbs feel weak by the time he's managed to drift a mug around. The metal feels like nothing more than metal, only warm due to the imprint of his body heat, but it has obviously done something.

It should feel like a victory, but it's a cheated one, stolen by the help of a piece of metal and a man an ocean away.

"Let me see that." Tina takes the metal bar from him and scrapes off a bit of it with a pen knife, putting it into a fold of paper, "I'm gonna have Alchemy run a test on it." She explains.

Queenie walks them back up to the bullpen, carrying a tray of coffee for some of the Investigative staff management.

Credence writes his letter for Mister Scamander while Tina works, sorting out his emotions and wording them politely. The man had only known him a short few days but had been whole-heartedly intending to take Credence away with him to safety. He'd been gentle to Credence in the subway and Tina seemed to like him enough. He had also tracked Credence to where he'd found Mister Graves and he owed him for keeping Mister Graves alive.

The complication came with his own guilt, for liking it here when Mister Scamander had warned him against it. He knew it was still dangerous, and he owed more to Mister Graves then he owed to any kindness of his fellow men. Still, he felt it necessary to apologize for Mister Scamander's trouble.

There are also some other questions he needs answered: did all obscurus eventually drain their obscurial to death, was it possible for the obscurus force to touch things and not leave destruction, and could he send something formerly cursed so Credence could test his reading of it.

Even if Mister Scamander has no answers, it feels good to get everything out into writing so it isn’t flitting around his head.

"Would you like to check some of these apparition points with me, Credence? If you're not feeling up to all the outside work I could leave you with Queenie if you would rather, though."

"I would like to help you in any way I can." He’s eager to move again.

"Oh good," Tina sighs her relief; "You can hold the list and check them off against the map. I hope you can read one, they can be tricky."

"I can. Ma said ignorance was no excuse for tardiness, so map reading was very important to keep us on the right path." Literally on the right path sometimes, as it turned out. His mention of Ma does as it always does with Tina, turns her face temporarily sour, her distaste far more poorly hidden than Mister Graves' is.

Credence is given a map of the city and half a pencil that Tina seems loathe to let go of, like it's something special. Looking at the other desks on the floor, Credence realizes it likely is. But it’s undoubtedly a better tool for marking off things on the map when one couldn't easily get a quill and ink out. He remembered then that Mister Fox had pencils in a cup on his desk along with the more standard quills, but Mister Graves' office was completely bereft of anything but quill pens.

They check the points around Mister Graves’ apartment building first, and seeing it in the midday light, Credence finds it's perhaps even more beautiful and upper-class then he'd thought it to be by dawn or dusk. There is gold finishing, elaborate metal lines that reach high up the face of the building, and like a fancy hotel, the ground floor has a restaurant. He has to stand around in convenient places so that Tina's wand motions go unnoticed, even though Credence knows all the patrons inside must have some manner of magical skill.

"Clean." Tina breathes a sigh of relief.

They travel through two small parks close to the apartment, and then a section of Central Park. They all come up clean when checked. Credence frowns down at the map – at the rainbow of markers Tina has placed in it to pinpoint all of Mister Graves' common apparition points. Tina peers over his arm, trying to find the next place to go. Arguably, they should be relieved to find that Mister Graves' apparition points haven't all been compromised, but Credence doesn't need training to see that something is wrong.

"The out of the way ones, the ones he doesn't commonly use?" Credence suggests and Tina bites her lip.

"I think you're right. They probably wouldn't have wanted to attack in a place lots of people frequent."

Credence remembers something Mister Graves had said to him then about safety, about being taken. How Congress wouldn't have wanted him in among the populace but Mister Graves did, as it was less of a risk for him personally.

They go back to Jersey, skirt around to the piers, they go down to Harlem and Queens, and in total they find thirty more wards, which Credence carefully documents on the map.

The sun is beginning its descent when they return to the Woolworth building. Tina groans and puts her feet up on her desk and takes the map back from Credence and holds it up over her, a sort of shield of interconnected streets and thick paper.

Auror Rose leans his hip against her desk and puts a measure of scroll in her inbox. "My interpretation of that report as requested. Thanks for that tip-off by the by, we're tracking down a few different shipping companies now. Gnarlak was very interested in continuing a mutual relationship of ambivalence with MACUSA."

Tina snorts derisively, "I bet, thanks Pyxis. If you and Potter have a free minute tomorrow, I could use some help with my side project." She jiggles the map quietly.

"We should in the morning before our informants get back to us. I have dinner with my parents, so I'll bid you a pleasant evening. Tina, Credence, Graves." Auror Rose's inclusion of his boss in the lineup has Credence looking up to see Mister Graves striding on toward them, the click-tap-click of his shoes a counterpoint to his otherwise silent arrival.

"We've been out for an hour, but I had to suffocate myself in legal precedence for Picquery." Mister Graves hooks a spare chair with his foot and drags it over, sitting down among them. As Auror Rose left, so did much of the other department, the smaller ranks of the evening shift replacing them. Tina carefully folds her map and puts it into her briefcase.

Tina explains in vague language the pattern in wards they'd discovered, Credence's breakthrough with the odd bar of metal Newt had sent, and her guess that it was going to snow tomorrow so Mister Graves should get Credence a thicker robe.

"One would think I had prepared for such an occasion to occur, Auror Goldstein."

"Maybe something not black." She suggests.

"Let me clothe my ward, if you would." Mister Graves stands and Credence follows like a thrall, hanging on the glimmer of amusement and the hard line of decision in Mister Graves' tone.

"Password." Tina orders.

A soft sigh, a sound of defeat. Credence feels terrible, but the hand that alights upon his back is hot and heavy. Possessive, Credence wants to imagine, so he does. "Gingersnap and Cardamon Fizz."

Tina waves her hand at them, a dismissal, "Queenie's favorite drink."

As they're walking out Credence tilts his head, "How do the passwords work?"

"It's a fact about one’s self, one of the three, which would be so inconsequential no one would be likely to keep it around, but that can easily be verified or remembered when asking one of the other two. Queenie is, of course, the only one who wouldn't need to ask. She can just take what she needs; she's just polite enough to ask first."

"I'm sorry." Credence mumbles.

"What for? You have absolutely nothing to be sorry over."

"You've had to give more of yourself away just for my sake."

They're almost outside, and Mister Graves is silent all the way out and down the block, until he can pull Credence along into an alley and apparate them, until Credence finds his back against a cool wall in a colder alleyway, Mister Graves a line of heat against his front, hands catching against his face so that Credence has to look at him. The difference between intentions, the difference between all of this pressure and Him, between false and true, Credence reels with it.

"I'll give it all to you Credence, you'd keep it safe for me, wouldn't you?"

Credence remembers, "I'll carry your standard too, Mister Graves." In a storybook, this is where they'd kiss. Not in any good and wholesome one, but in the one Credence has written on his heart, this is where Mister Graves would take a token of his affection and in return he'd lean down and kiss him, up against the wall in this place between light and shadows.

"Circe's smile, Credence you're very sweet." But, this isn't a storybook; the engravings on the page are as much about pain as they are recovery. Dark magic forever irrevocably laced with healing, and Credence wants so much he can't have. Mister Graves pulls them off the wall. "So we're both knights, then?"

"No. I'm not sure what I am."

"We'll figure it out." Mister Graves promises and leads them back into the light, away from alleyways with old connotations remade and back toward civilization.

They're closer now as they walk, Mister Graves’ hand on his back and the brush of their bodies together, but something has changed inside of Credence, clicked into place. He is full of sin, but if he can be something soft and good for Mister Graves, if he could be something like a knight and take any burdens, then perhaps he still has use. He'd prayed for strength, to bear the burden of love, and it's there in him. Stealing a glance at Mister Graves' face doesn't hurt as much as it did before. It doesn’t hurt at all.

Hebrews 10:24-25. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

His heart is full and not so heavy, and he's so close to Mister Graves now, sheltered. He can't hope to protect the man as he is, but maybe someday he won't be the monster to the Knight Percival. Maybe one day he'll be human again.

The shop Mister Graves leads them to is so fine, so fancy, with gowns and fine suits in the window. Credence's boots drag against the threshold until Mister Graves entwines their hands palm to palm, draws him forward into the scent of lavender satchels and wood polish. "A heavier robe for winter, with gold lining for my little prince." Graves teases him and helps him to stand up on the fitting dais. The attendant is a sweet-faced girl, and Credence fidgets as Mister Graves draws him out of the shield of his bag and robes, careful of Credence's wand, holding it in a loose grip.

Credence shivers. It's not from the cold, because the shop is heated up by a well-tended fireplace, cozy and plush. He shivers because Mister Graves' grip on his wand is sure and careful and the same he uses on Credence himself.

They turn him around like he's dancing with shadows, arrange him as magical measuring tape slithers along his shirt-sleeves and tugs into the space between his shirt and vest. Mister Graves reviews the robes the girl brings to hold up against him and dismisses each.

They're finer and finer, and Credence grows more nervous. When she dips away with renewed dedication, Credence's voice trembles like the quiver of his own jaw, weak and chattering, "Mister Graves isn't the first one enough? Your kindness is too much, I can't accept this."

"Let me dress my ward, Credence." Mister Graves' eyes are glinting, he almost looks wicked. "Let me give you my standard to bear."

To wear. Oh God, oh Lord keep him. "Yes sir." His heart is beating so fast. He could sing his praises, rejoice in him and gladness filling up his chest, keep him, please.

Again the robe is refused and again, till finally she holds up one black as night. The inner lining is black too, but threaded all through with embroidered birds of gold and Mister Graves draws it onto him himself. The sleeves are cut in a fashion just like Mister Graves' own were: for ease of casting, the man explains. He takes Credence's hand and draws it out, and the sleeves gather in the crease of his too-ungainly arms, in the indent of his elbow.

The robes are heavy but in the way Mister Graves' hand is heavy on him, warm and comforting. The cut is stylish, he thinks, and it has a hood. "Warm, my Lumos?"

Credence nods. His words are like scared animals, they refuse to leave his throat.

"Fit it, he'll wear it out." Mister Graves approves.

Mister Graves folds his normal robes away and puts them into Credence's bag. He refreshes the spell on the scarf too, so that it glints like sequins when the light catches it. Credence can hear his Ma's voice, recounting the dangers of vanity even as Mister Graves leans into him outside, "My beautiful boy." He praises.

"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised." Credence whispers the recitation.

Mister Graves laughs softly, "Then I'll be vain for you, and you can fear the lord for both of us."

Credence feels drunk on closeness, on warmth, on the way Mister Graves leads them onward into the dark, down busy streets, "You don't fear the Lord, Mister Graves?"

"Told you I was a sinner, my boy."

Credence can't fault him; Mister Graves is a good man.

They get sandwiches, and Mister Graves holds him with one arm and the bag in the other and draws him down more dark places, stretches between the goodly places his Ma would stand and preach from and those places He had held Credence by the back of the neck. They are in neither now, and Credence can see the allegory here. That he himself is the hawthorn wand, he is the curseworker from Avalon, and of course he is the Obscurial with metal weighing him down, still alive when he should have died long ago.

Mister Graves apparates them up and up, till they're on the roof of some high place and Credence clings to him. The first snow is falling, but they're in a safe place here, out of the wind in an alcove. Mister Graves presses a kiss to his hair. "I'm sorry I can't take you flying yet." But oh, Credence feels it, his heart soaring. They're so high, and he's so warm.

He's in love. It's been weeks since he'd first fallen, and he spent most of that in a cell tearing himself apart. He's been given a gift with each soft truth, each mask falling away. "You've given me enough."

Mister Graves transfigures them a blanket from pieces of scroll. They sit wrapped up together with wand light and the lights of the city trying in vain to be brighter than the lights of the Lord's heavens. "You deserve more."

Credence takes something small, he rests his head on Mister Graves' shoulder and goes still, eyes closed, sandwich half eaten. "So do you."

Mister Graves slips his arm around him, fingers clutching at his shoulder. They watch the moon come up, and Credence hopes Queenie and Tina are keeping warm.

"You know, Percival was actually the worst knight. Not evil, no, but short-sighted. You see, like many of the knights, he quested for the Holy Grail, but he was also the one who actually found it." Mister Graves tangles his hand up with Credence's hair, ribbon entwined between sure fingers, and then pulled free.

"The cup from the last supper?"

"In wizarding lore it's a little more convoluted; in most depictions it's actually a cauldron, but you're thinking along the right path."

"If he found it, why do you say he's the worst knight?"

"Because he failed to ask about it. It was paraded in front of him and he had the chance to heal his king by recognizing the grail, and also heal the man who was safe-guarding it, and he stayed silent."

"Why didn't he ask?" Credence takes a bite of his sandwich, minds that Mister Graves has already finished his.

"There are many reasons for a man to stay silent. Percival was described as having an eloquent tongue, though, and chastised for not speaking up." Mister Graves draws Credence’s hair over. It's barely enough for the ribbon, barely enough to gather, but he brushes it off Credence's neck till it's all laid on the left side of his face, freeing the profile of his face for Mister Graves' attention. "I like to think he was being polite; the man whose hospitality he was taking was gravely injured."

"How so?" Credence hasn't read this story yet.

"He'd received an injury to his thigh – although it can be implied it was rather an injury to the manhood, he was rendered impotent and his kingdom without heir in some versions. His kingdom suffered for it, and he sustained himself and his people by fishing. The Fisher King, who despite his injuries had a beautiful palace and a garden of a kingdom, invited Percival to feast with him."

Mister Graves draws his wand along the glass bottle of soda, and when he raises it to Credence's lips it's warm and bites his throat, liquor, and his cheeks heat with it. He doesn't cough, he's proud of himself, takes another sip and watches Mister Graves close his lips around the same bottle, drain some for himself.

"So," Mister Graves begins again voice momentarily rough, "The Fisher King feasts, and Percival watches as paraded through the banquet hall there comes a candelabra, a lance, and a cauldron."

"Or chalice."

"Or chalice," Mister Graves chuckles, "And he doesn't ask, and he doesn't heal the Fisher King of his wounds by asking, and he goes on up to his room and sleeps. When he wakes up the castle is in ruins, the kingdom gone. He realizes at once his mistake, but in the earliest versions of the tale he's never able to make up for it. They bring in Gawain in later versions, so Percival remains the worthless one. Charismatic, eloquent, blind."

"So the Fisher King never recovers?"

"In some texts he's given remedy by repeated piercing by the lance that wounded him." Mister Graves' lips quirk, "But originally, no. Percival never finds him again, no matter how desperately he searches, never gets to ask that question that would have set them both free."

"Regret," Credence takes the bottle from Mister Graves, swallows down some of that heat and holds it inside, "Do you have many?"

"I'm trying not to make the same mistakes I'd made before."

It hits Credence fast, he can feel the warmth turning him dizzy. He puts the bottle down before he drops it, "Mister Graves," he kneels on the gravel top roof, feels it press into his knees. Mister Graves reaches his arm around him, holds him steady as he leans into him, "You can ask me." Credence is much taller this way, looks down at Mister Graves under city lights and moonlight, under the stars, his arms fall loose around his shoulders, fingers linked together in prayer. "Percival, you can ask me."

Mister Graves laughs, soft, self-conscious, "I must confess, I thought I'd never hear you call me by my first name, Credence."

"Just this once." Credence is very earnest. He's a wicked man, but he's a respectful one. "Have no regrets in me, 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.' It says in Timothy."

"I haven't kept faith at all, Credence."

Credence leans over and kisses his temple, "You're still standing."

"Fuck, Credence." Mister Graves moves his arms around him, pulls till his face is pressed to the gold of Credence's scarf hanging down his chest like a priest's stole.

"Language, Mister Graves." Credence whispers, drunk, it feels marvelous to finally say it.

"Credence," Mister Graves doesn't ask about the grail, but he sounds like he's talking about it, voice breathless and desperate, "Stay with me, let me take care of you, don't leave me. I don't think I can do this without you. I'm two steps away from falling apart. And the way you look at me, I know it's wrapped up in a man I never was, but I can't do this without you."

Credence kisses his hair back, draws them close together, "So let the healing begin."

Mister Graves laughs against his chest, "You're a cheap date."

"You bought me these nice robes, the least I could do is be a lush." Credence loses balance and falls back to sit, laughing, actually laughing, and it hurts his chest; it hurts, and he loves it. Ma turning in her grave, he laughs, a lush, and he wants so much he shouldn’t have.

"Time to go home." Mister Graves says, and Credence feels his face heat with flush. Home, it's their home now. He shivers when he nods, and Mister Graves feels it in his hands because they're still pressed to Credence's sides, "And a hot bath for you."

They clean up their dinner space, and Mister Graves apparates them home. They walk past the doorman, who greets them warmly and ignores the way they're tangled up together like it happens all the time. Mister Graves helps him undress in parts all the way to the bathroom until Credence is in his shirt sleeves with his suspenders hanging down and Credence is shivering like he's going to fall apart into a thousand sinful pieces. Mister Graves' hands still on the flat of his stomach over the clasp of his slacks, "You should do this one, Credence."

Credence turns away from him and struggles with buttons and clasps, the water turning on behind him. Mister Graves takes his leave, of course he does. Credence braces himself on the edge of the bath, and the cold seeps into him till his teeth chatter. There are bubbles up to his chest when he buries himself in the nice hot water.

He is expecting silence, but the door opens. Wide-eyed, he flushes to see Mister Graves with his vest off, his sleeves rolled up, strong arms carrying a stool. He puts it at the side of Credence's bath and applies himself to washing Credence's back before the mouse-squeak can leave Credence's chest, a dying animal brought back to life inside of him. It's replaced by a soft sound of pleasure; he hangs his head against his knees, legs bent so he can hug them.

Credence shivers, cloth drawn over the scars embedded in his skin a legacy of his disobedience, but Mister Graves shows him no repulsion or need for penance. He strokes his thumb up the indentations of his spine, all the way up till his hand is again in Credence's hair. His hold is firm, careful, commanding. Credence bares his throat easily to the pressure. "Keep your head back for me, my sweetest delight."

Credence finds it's the easiest command he's ever had to follow.

He keeps his eyes closed too, and lips parted, and maybe it's like prayer; it's certainly almost like Baptism. The water runs through his hair, warm and pure, over his shoulders, down his back. He gasps in with it, and Mister Graves rubs his thumb against the stretch of his throat, sweet pressure. There is more water, cleaning the sin from his skin, or the day at least, rivers of warmth.

"Look at you," Mister Graves tightens his hand just a little, and Credence gasps for it, “Beautiful.” Credence is dizzy and weightless, "Keep still, my boy." The way Mister Graves says it is yet more praise, and Credence stays so still even his breathing is shallow, his whole body thrumming with the energy captured in his bones. "You're such a good little prince."

Both hands entangle into his hair, work soap to lather. Credence groans.

"You might want to give us our prayer now, Credence."

Credence casts about internally for applicable lessons to apply, recounts the day behind them. Seeing Modesty happy and healthy feels like it happened months ago. Time feels like it's going too fast, and moments recall in pinpoints of light. Mister Graves telling him about flying ships, Mister Scamander's letter, Tina's pride, Queenie's intuition. The first snow, his first shared drink, feeling like flying he was so high up, saying Percival like the name belonged in his mouth, and being asked to stay.

“Lord in Heaven who loves us no matter our faults, who loves us even when our sins cast us away from thee. We rejoice in Your light, for who loves us more than You, who can see all of our faults and hate them but still love us Your children. You keep us and hold us, give us shelter, food in our belly, hope in our hearts.”

“Teach us to love selflessly, and when we do this teach us to give selflessly, and when we do this then teach us to not feel pride for all we have done.”

“Remind us to fear lest we fall from your Grace. Take from us our fortune should we take it for granted. Clean us of our sins so that we are worthy of Your high throne where we might serve you eternally.”

Mister Graves tips him up by the chin and rinses his hair clean, water running over his face, “May death,” Credence speaks through the river, “Find us pure and clean, and waiting for thee.”

“Amen.”

Mister Graves stands after drawing his hair back away from his wet face gently, “Amen.” He holds up plush towel, averts his eyes, Credence stands from the bath and steps out onto the tiles and into the towel.

“Dress, I’ll ready the fire in your room.” Mister Graves parts from him, but Credence can feel where his hands lingered, brands of fire sunken into the flesh of him, burning into his bones.

He’s drunk on everything as much as he is on that transmuted nectar, on warmth and Mister Graves’ plea. He’s never had a place in life so stable, never been wanted like he is here. He dries himself off and dresses, and he’s not the frail thing in the mirror anymore. There is magic in his bones, in the blood in his veins, his eyes bleed milk-white, his skin smoke. He blinks and it’s gone, and he’s just him, all the horrors are ones he’s been living for years and years.

His hair is a little damp when he comes into the room, so Mister Graves does a spell on him and he’s dry and warm. The covers are turned down and the fire high. He crawls into bed and sits on the edge. Mister Graves chooses clothing for him on the morrow, hangs it before the dressing screen in the far corner of the room.

“Go on and lay down, Credence.” Mister Graves encourages, but the day isn’t done yet.

“I’ll have regrets if I do that Mister Graves.” He unfolds himself from the bed, slides his feet back into his house slippers. Mister Graves stands in front of the fire, and Credence joins him there before it. It’s like on the roof; he slips his arms around the man’s shoulders, wrists together behind his neck. Mister Graves puts a hand on his back, another on his hip. Credence hums a hymnal he can’t remember the name of right now, and Ma would have chastised him, but Ma is dead. And he’s not glad, no, but he’s here now and he’s going to have to survive her.

Mister Graves brings them into a spin, works them around the small space, slow and careful, and they dance. “Dancing solves that?” Mister Graves asks, amused.

“With you, sir.” They could kiss now, Credence wants that, but he’s wanted that for a long time now, and it doesn’t happen. Mister Graves smiles at him like it hurts. Credence knows precisely how he feels. “Only you, sir.” He doesn’t know how else to explain it was never Him. It was always the thought of the man here in his arms, that mask, and Credence would have settled for some half-light, some brittle premise just to get his fingers into the impression of the man with him right now.

He is understood in parts maybe. Mister Graves tightens his hold on him, presses their bodies completely flush, and Credence shudders right into it. Mister Graves sweeps him in a circle and then sweeps him right up, cradled in his arms, carried to the bed, “Sleep or I’ll dance you into the next day and never let you go.”

Credence doesn’t think that would be so bad, but he’s obedient, lets his grip go loose, his arms fall back above his head on the pillow. Mister Graves braces on the headboard with one arm and against the bed by Credence’s shoulder with the other. “You only need to ask, Credence, and I’ll get you anything you need.”

“I want for nothing, Mister Graves. You have provided far beyond my needs; I don’t know how I’ll ever want for anything ever again.”

Mister Graves smiles oddly, pushes from his brace above Credence, leaving him trembling and bereft for the implied weight. “Sleep well, Credence.”

“You too, Mister Graves.”

He watches the fire for a time after Mister Graves has shut tight the door, listens to the man readying for bed himself. His face flushes. Mister Graves couldn’t possibly mean sinful need, he chastises himself. He tucks himself tighter into the bedding. The fire flickers, crackles, reminds him he’s destined for hell. But he’s been heading there maybe his entire life, and it’s not preordained, but he’s not fearful of it. Witch and invert, and Mister Graves braced above him saying he only needs ask.

The sound of the water runs, and Credence closes his eyes and imagines the broad back, the water on tanned skin, scars and indentations he vaguely recalls from more painful memories. His imagination draws forth strong thighs, thick hair between them, rigid flesh.

How it would feel to touch, to take him in his hands. He has needed so much, the heat in him, the pain like an ache. The Fisher King with his lanced wound, that only piercing could relieve, and Mister Graves had gone by Pierce in the diner where Mollie worked. His own pain in need of relief, in need, and just like when they’d danced, only one was the solution.

Close his eyes against the fire, focus on the sounds of stillness, imagine the water running over skin, and imagine it’s his hands. He hasn’t moved from the place Mister Graves had left him: his hands fight for more purchase against the bedding, his hips stutter like his own useless lips. Ask the question, set yourself free, but that’s not how the story goes.

He wishes a little he had the bruise impression of the wall in his back from when Mister Graves had pressed him up against it. Wishes he had bruises on his knees from kneeling over the man and taking his words to his chest. He wishes he had Mister Graves written into his skin as much as he’s written on his heart, overwriting words stitched into him from a life before he was a wizard.

Water stops rushing, and Credence moans softly against his pillow, presses his hand to his stomach just as Mister Graves had placed his hand there before telling Credence he should undo the rest of his buttons himself. Did he need Mister Graves to do that for him? Could he be so bold to ask when he already knew he shouldn’t?

But what if he’d refused to do it himself, asked Mister Graves to undo it for him? Or maybe the man would just pull his clothing free without bothering with buttons. Credence is sickly-thin enough to do it easily, and that is its own turning grating guilt.

His hand skims under the waistband of his pajama pants. He’s never wrapped his hand around the angry swollen pain of his shame before, but he does now, lips open, voice carefully silent. Percival in the court of the Fisher King, retiring with the knowledge of how much he’s needed, doing nothing for it. Credence sobs silently, a tear running down his cheek, he strokes the pain.

He feels so brittle, like a broken bottle, sharp glass and still pretty to the right eye maybe. “Mister Graves,” he begs in a whisper, and the man can’t hear him, moving in the hallway as he is, maybe turning off the lights, running one last check of empty rooms, “Percival, please.” Credence pleads, knowing he can’t hear. His hips jerk; he’s never done this before, and it’s as deliriously good as it is forbidden.

The release leaves his hand wet, his lungs heaving, his face tear-stained. He panics and has nowhere to leave the evidence, draws his hand carefully from the confines of his pajamas and casts around helplessly. The door clicks shut down the hallway, so he sits and waits, waits on the edge of the bed till he is uncomfortable and shame-filled. He sneaks into the bathroom and cleans his hands at the sink.

It is still ridiculously easy to sleep after that; shame and guilt cannot win against his body’s satisfaction.

Chapter Text

The shouts wake him, hoarse and muffled. His body has woken first, his panic and alarm. He's against the ceiling again, curled up in the very corner, his comforter has been shredded into, scraps of cloth and feathers rend the floor like he's killed a chicken. It takes him a moment to realize the sound isn't in his head.

He's all smoke, violence and pain, the Obscurus pulls at the doorknob before his hand even touches it, rattles it violently. He steps back; breathe, oh no, just breathe. The door opens maybe on its own, or it is magic working around him, bending to his interests.

The hallway is still, the door to Mister Graves' room opens before he's fully reached it. The Obscurus strikes out, twisting weaving, tearing through air, hovers over the bed, entwines with the posts, it's so cold.

Mister Graves is twisted up in his blankets, eyes shut tight, nightmare like cursework lingering in his head. Credence can't use the Obscurus to draw this out. He's a nightmare himself, but he reaches out black-sin hands, shakes Mister Graves. He doesn't even flinch at the wand to his throat, his eyes don't even widen. "It's okay, you're safe." He whispers like prayer.

Mister Graves takes a minute to catch up to reality, his wand drops from his hand, he braces one hand at Credence's shoulder, the other against the bed, his chest heaves.

The Obscurus gets into the cracks where wood is joined together, not escaping, no: finding purchase for him.

"You are too." Mister Graves reaches out and curves his hand against Credence's cheek. It's like being pierced through. The Obscurus resettles, his skin burns for the touch. He can breathe, but it's far more painful than it should be.

"I keep waking up on the ceiling." Credence whispers.

"Probably my fault, I was having a nightmare last time too." He takes a steadying breath, "Every night, some are just louder than others."

Credence settles, and the grip on his shoulder gentles, "Will it get better, will it ever stop?"

"With time, it'll get duller. But it never really goes away." Mister Graves draws his wand up and kindles the fireplace with it. The warmth of light is barely enough to make out the places the Obscurus had pried apart.

"I'm sorry, I think I destroyed my blanket. Is there a spell to repair it?"

Mister Graves nods, but he puts his wand back on the bedside table and pulls up the side of his comforter with careful deliberation, opening up the empty space beside him where it's clear no one had ever slept. Credence folds himself into the space, curls up under the blanket and shivers against the cooler bedding. Mister Graves puts on a pair of reading glasses and picks up a book with a title in German. Credence closes his eyes, drifts on the turning of pages.

He is nothing but his suit, handing out pieces of paper that have more weight than he does. He blows away and gets stuck on a light pole. Lumos, he tries, but it won't light up no matter how many times he says it. Someone picks him up and puts him into a cauldron like the ones on his Ma's woodblock prints. Mister Graves makes him into a potion and puts him on a shelf, calls him beautiful.

He wakes up alone, Mister Graves' side of the bed empty, but he puts his hand there and feels the remnants of warmth. The window is frosted over, the fire is low. His clothing has been brought in and he dresses in front of the hearth. There is an impression of a bruise on his shoulder, his heart beats fast and he pushes his fingers against it till he can feel the pain.

He covers it up with his clothing, keeps it safe and still under layers, and it warms him inside like the fire can’t, a strange pride that this mark is one he wants, one given unintentionally, from his support and the need of him. Not taken from him by force. His hair hangs loose around his face as Mister Graves never gave him back his ribbon, not that he'd have attempted to tie it back on his own.

Mister Graves is reading the morning paper, mug of coffee drifting steam. Credence drinks from it even though he's decided he doesn't like coffee, just to see the look twist Mister Graves' face, the twitch of lips. They'd shared the liquor last night, what is this one imposition when Credence has spent part of a night with him?

"How did you sleep?" Mister Graves asks.

"I dreamt I couldn't cast lumos right and you made me into a potion." Credence goes about making himself tea, his hands only shaking a little, and they still when his attention catches on how graceful even his ungainly wrists look peeking out from the edge of the slit sleeves of his new robes.

"What kind of potion? I think I have a dream interpretation book around here somewhere."

"I don't know, I'm not sure you gave me a label." Credence sits down with his mug, "Did you sleep at all after?"

"A little, thank you." Mister Graves hands him the portion of the paper he's finished with; Credence nods, although he's not sure what he's being thanked for.

As usual, his interest falls mainly on the advertisements between the larger articles. Glimpses of how magic is woven into everyday life past what is normalcy for Mister Graves. A broom stability course by owl, a travel agency promising the most exciting in magical vacations, a potion that cures a broken heart (there is a no-refund clause in the fine text).

They get pastries on the way to work and Credence eats his while struggling to keep pace with Mister Graves, cheeks stinging from the cold air. The snow has already melted to slush and mud, oil struck through and disgusting. One of the secretaries Credence recognizes from Queenie's department is standing on the inside casting charms repetitively to clean up people's shoes and also the floor.

In the elevator up Auror Penn joins them and greets him as Consultant Barebone, which Mister Graves doesn't correct, much to Credence's embarrassment. "I just finished my write up on the case, I noticed Goldstein doesn't have a partner currently, I could hop in on her investigation?"

"I have a case for you already, Penn. It will be on your desk before noon. Until then, shadow the investigation on Grindelwald's followers. Auror Smiths should be taking interviews this morning."

Auror Penn seems respectful enough outside of his conversation with Tina, very attentive to Mister Graves' instructions. Credence still dislikes him mostly on the implication that he didn't think Tina had earned the respect she received, although he's not sure what a Veela is yet.

They walk down the long hallway to investigations with Auror Penn chatting to them about the great restaurant he'd visited while in California. Mister Graves is nodding, hand on Credence's back, when they reach the bend in the hall where the Director's office lies. On the floor before Mister Graves' office is a little copper bird, and Credence remembers the one above the door in the bookstore.

They're three more paces in when the rest of the puzzle drops into place sharp and jolting, and he feels Mister Graves stiffen at the same time he feels the tremor through himself, the fracture as the curse screams along his senses, the Obscurus slamming up into a wall right as the burst of the spell sets the very air on fire. Credence is smoke and violence and the contraption lights pain through the turning oily mess of him.

He apparates maybe, it happens very fast, and all of a sudden they are three rooms down the hallway from the explosion. When he stumbles Mister Graves catches him, and the white bleeds from his eyes. Auror Penn promptly falls to his knees and vomits. Credence knows how he feels.

Credence is wrapped up in blankets, rocked by various people he can't recall at the time, only a few whose voices he actually recognizes. When the shock wears off he just buries his face in his hands for a time till he stops shaking on his own, Queenie sitting with a hand on his knee.

Mister Graves' office is half destroyed and burned away. It's not something reparo can easily fix, but he knows how to fix his blanket now, watching people put the walls back together.

Auror Penn sits by him after a while, grasps Credence's hand, "You saved my life."

Credence doesn't know how to say he isn’t entirely sure what he'd been doing, that it was instinctual, that he doesn't deserve the look Auror Penn is giving him. Queenie shoos the man off just the same.

When two hours have passed and somehow life has continued on and there are wizards in white coats and tweed prodding the hall for pieces of the little bird, Mister Graves draws him along and away and Credence finds the real opening door to the Director's file room. Queenie gets shut out, or maybe she'd dropped off before then, but Credence no longer has her at his side and instead has his back against a filing cabinet and Mister Graves' hands on his face.

"Are you hurt?" He asks Credence, desperation lined with something darker, and Credence considers that if he delays the answer Mister Graves might take it upon himself to check physically.

"No, I'm fine. Mister Graves, it was the same curse worker as the park."

The older man isn't listening completely, or he is listening in part, and then he is leaning his head down, down to bury his face against Credence's neck, against his shoulder. "You bring a man to prayer." His voice trembles deep in his throat.

Shaking useless hands, but he brings his arms up to hold Mister Graves.

"I don't think you heard they're calling an emergency session. The review on the President is being put on hold to discuss your placement." Mister Graves is holding to him so tight, pressing his back into the metal handles. Credence shudders, unsure of everything. "I want, I want something I shouldn't ask for," Mister Graves' lips track over his throat as he speaks, "They could find me unfit to protect you from this. Merlin's beard, you're the one who protected me."

"Let me not be a regret for you, Mister Graves."

"Asking might be." He shakes and Credence can feel it sinking into him, draws up, his hair is the only thing out of place. Credence pushes the singular strand back and out of his eyes. He knows he's lost the battle when Mister Graves' lips go thin, "I'll ask you after."

Credence could scream, but he doesn't. He nods and lets Mister Graves pull him away from the cabinet, and he viciously hopes the pain stays, deepens, he wants to keep it.

"Mister Graves?" His voice sounds strange in his ears, not nearly as shaken as he feels inside.

"If it's in my power, it's yours."

Credence breathes carefully, "Let me sleep in your bed again tonight?"

Mister Graves nods sharply, can't look at Credence, and that burns, turning pain inside of him, but he takes his wrist gently and leads him, "Every night if you want. I'd like nothing better, Credence." The words sound so gentle they soothe the pain away.

Queenie is waiting for them at the end of the hall, and she takes his arm, "Tina is giving testimony." She explains. They're shown into that same waiting room, but the inkwell and mouse from days ago are gone now. Queenie tries to get him into a game of Cat's Cradle, but he keeps tangling up the yarn until he can't help it anymore, and she just works the yarn while he holds his hand up as a loom for her to weave around.

Tina comes back, trembling, pale, tries to smile.

Credence is led in alone, they ask him how he knew to pull back, how he controlled the Obscurus, how he managed not to kill with it. He doesn't know, he repeats himself again and again till his voice is trembling, his hands shaking, till his eyes bleed white and his body is more smoke than flesh, till he's what Ma had been, bare bones under the sun. The ward holds him in place, but it's no longer there to prevent magic. It is instead for containment; they're watching him.

How easily he breaks. He recognizes no faces in the crowd; they're all horrors, expressionless, mouths contorted, eyes melting, black blood in their veins. Cursework, and he'd left Ma just like that.

"-Torture and you expect me to allow it to continue when he's under my protection!?" Mister Graves is shouting, mid-sentence, the clack tap clack of his shoes. Credence is a little more whole. "President Picquery, I demand Credence Barebone be released to my custody."

"Director Graves, I am sorry, but it's clear he's volatile and your life is already endangered." She sounds softer than she would otherwise. Credence can't fault her, she's right.

He's on his hands and knees and he's whole again, or enough to lay his hand over the metal tip of a shoe far too fancy for him to have touched before this, but he needs something solid, he needs to touch him. Everything is falling apart even when he stitches it back together and he doesn't know how he ever expected to fit in here, how he could ever belong.

Mister Graves almost reaches for his hair, he can see it out of the corner of his eye, but he can't, he can't here in front of all of these people, and his hand twitches and falls to his side, "You threaten to undo a length of work that might never be rebuilt, President Picquery."

"I propose a compromise," It's Congressman Day, and Credence doesn't like this at all, "Of course Head Auror Graves is capable of this task, but allowing a small investigation of the man's apartment and also the Investigative Department would go a long way toward soothing the justifiable fears many of us hold."

It's so well spoken and tolerant that Mister Graves has no choice but to agree.

"And for tonight, young Mister Barebone can stay under roof here where he can be watched over." Congressman Day smiles, and Mister Graves nods again, leans down to help Credence stand, now more man than monster, but inside he's turning up, toxic fumes and screaming. No, he had a bed, and it wasn't here.

Credence is escorted back to the room, but on the way there Auror Penn falls into step with them. "I gave them testimony, Head Auror Graves. I'm sorry, I'm not sure if it helped much. I didn't even know he was the thing everyone was talking about." The thing, a thing, that’s what he is.

Mister Graves' hand is trembling at Credence's back, grips into his robe to steady and Credence feels sick, or maybe he's always been sick. It's hard to remember a time now when he hadn't felt terrible, but he knows somehow there had to be, this morning, last night. Not right now, any time but right now.

"It's no matter, Auror Penn."

Queenie stands up sharply and embraces Credence, tugging him close as soon as they're in the room, and he breaks then, crying against her shoulder. And he's ashamed because she'll know why, the promise, the hope in him, she'll read it all, but she just coos at him and rocks him back and forth. Tina is close enough to get dragged over by Queenie too.

They eat lunch, or Queenie tries to get them to eat lunch, cheese on crackers and slices of deli meat. Credence has better luck with the hot cocoa she pours.

"Tina, I'll need you to come do a once-over on the wards with me before they pull in their goons to test them." Mister Graves is charismatic again, filled with energy and purpose. "Credence, is there anything you'd like me to bring from the apartment for you?"

Can he ask for Mister Graves himself? He shakes his head, heartsick but so good at hiding it after all these years that only Queenie pats his knee.

"Auror Penn, go have yourself looked at by a healer." Mister Graves notes him still there, sitting and looking how Credence feels, lost, adrift.

"I already did sir, they said I was fine." He doesn't take it as the dismissal he should, and Credence can see what Tina meant. The man starts when Queenie takes his arm, "Come on honey, you can help me make sure the room they get Credence is nice and comfortable."

Somehow Tina finds she needs to step out right then too, and Mister Graves moves to kneel at his feet, Credence's hands flitting nervously against the chair arms.

"You promised to stay with me, you know." Mister Graves reminds him, easy smile, like everything will be okay. He finds it easier to believe maybe with Mister Graves prying his hands off the chair, kissing his knuckles, "You'll be fine my boy." He promises like they can decide that, like they aren't at the mercy of powerful people, like Credence can forget how he's been a pawn in games this entire time. Mister Graves is so smart, he knows it's empty, lies to Credence's face. "It's only one night, and I'll keep the bed warm for you."

"Mister Graves," and he learns forward and he feels Mister Graves squeeze his hands and shake his head, "I," and Credence struggles even as the man moves to stand, "Please, I," struggling and nothing comes till Mister Graves frees his hands and rubs his thumb against Credence's cheek.

The silence becomes him and Mister Graves leaves, and he's alone for the first time in so long, really alone, and there is nothing but the sound of the clock ticking on the wall. He's neither a wizard nor a man, he's a monster, and it's what he's always been.

It's a cell they show him to, and he remembers turning to smoke and tearing himself to pieces against warded walls, but these have been hung up with silk scarves and Queenie squeezes his hand and smiles at him, "And the quilt is one my grandmother sewed on the boat over, isn’t it pretty?" She's stolen things from different offices, a floral lantern, and a carpet. "Oh, it's nothing honey."

Auror Penn is putting up a moving painting of a herd of cows. He flushes when he looks at Credence fidgeting in the center of the cell, feet barely on the carpet. "It's probably not as fancy as you're used to." He apologizes.

Credence shakes his head, it's beautiful, "Thank you." He struggles.

"You saved my life." Auror Penn shakes his head and Credence is reminded of Mister Graves, albeit far younger and less self-assured, "Thank you. I'm gonna go shake down the catering to get you some real food, you're thinner than a stick." He's gone before Credence can try to tell him he's fine.

Queenie rolls her eyes, "Don't take that to heart, that's not what he was thinking."

He gets it, flushes dark and takes Queenie's hands, turns to her, "You can't tell people things like that, not even me. I don't know if it's different here, but I can already see it's not that different, and you can't. Mister Graves could get in trouble. Auror Penn could get in trouble."

Queenie squeezes his hand, "Credence, you know how Mister Graves feels," she bites her lip, Credence thinks her lipstick must be magic because it never messes up once, "It is." She informs him.

Credence doesn't know anything, he's learning, or at least he's trying. He couldn't even tell when he is being flirted with, but he's sure you don't have the kind of relationship he has with Mister Graves and have it be chaste. He considers, does he know, and he turns up pain and honesty inside, smoke and sadness, no he doesn't, not really.

"Oh, Credence, honey." She knows better than to give away what she's read.

Auror Penn manages to bring a giant bowl of spaghetti from somewhere, and Credence finds he has more company for early dinner as Mister Graves returns with a bag of his sleeping clothes and a few extra books.

Mister Graves fixes the crooked painting and lingers, saying he has to go as he left Tina tending the apartment without him, but he stays some time past that too. As much as Queenie tries, Auror Penn is too content transfiguring a bunch of playing cards into little paper animals for Credence, and Mister Graves doesn't get him alone again. He leaves looking like he's ready to hex something, probably Auror Penn.

"Hey, is it okay if I call you Credence?" Auror Penn asks.

Queenie rolls her eyes and puts Credence's sleep clothes out on the bed for him.

"If you'd like, Auror Penn."

"You can call me Jason." Auror Penn smiles at him. His little paper animals are starting to tear each other apart. Credence can't look at it, it's making him feel sick.

Queenie waves her wand, and they're all slips of cardstock again, "You must be tired, honey. We'll get out of your hair."

Credence squeezes her hand in thanks when she passes.

He sits on the bed. There isn't a wall one can see through here, and it's far more comforting, but it's still a cell. Ma used to lock him up in the basement when he was bad, whatever bad meant that day, and Credence was always bad. He didn't have a lamp there with him or a stack of books. He looks through the ones Mister Graves brought him and picks up the one at the very top. Chadwick's Charms. He can't help but smile and settles on the bed, back to the wall. Wingardium Leviosa greets him, and a drawing of a feather. On the margins is written in childish scrawl notes about recitation and wand stance. Credence bites his lip and holds the book tight. Even as an eleven year old, Mister Graves had been so precise.

He practices on the deck of cards, book in his lap and Mister Scamander's strange metal bar in one hand.

Tina still hasn’t told him what the metal is and he wonders if she will tomorrow or the next day, if he has those days to see her. He trusts Mister Graves, but they could decide for whatever reason to find that he’s unfit to care for Credence, or look after him, or protect him. They being a faceless mass with the voice of Congressman Day, who looks at him like he's a thing to be pried apart at the seams. Or maybe Credence is just reading his own thoughts onto other people.

He shuffles the deck in the air, fans cards, draws them like a magician doing a trick on the street corner for coins. Is this your card? But Ma had beat him bloody when she caught him staring one time; he'd never found out if it had been the right card or not.

He tries to lessen his grip on the bar, but it just makes the whole stack of books and his sleep clothes float too. When he cancels the spell, the painting goes off balance.

He stands to fix it to Mister Graves' standards when the door opens; he turns and knows right away something is very wrong. Auror Penn's eyes are milky white, not like the Obscurus leaves Credence, they're filmed over delicately instead, and he looks like he's having a dream, walking through it.

"Come on, Credence." He whispers. His wand is out, and he motions for him to follow with it. Credence thinks of Felicity Langley in the medical ward with cursework streaming through her veins long after the spell had worn off, and he doesn't have to reach out.The Obscurus tastes the air before he's even following the order, and it's clear, it's the same foul magician.

Auror Penn, or the man's hollowed out shell, guides Credence through darkened hallways. Their path has been prepared for, the guards lay on the ground. Credence doesn't look at them overly long; he doesn't want to know if they're dead.

The cell is just like the one they'd had Credence in before Mister Graves had set him free from it with his elocution and charisma, with his gentle care. Three walls and a fourth made for observation. There is no bed in this one, not even a chair. Credence had been given a cot at least.

Auror Penn drops like a puppet with his strings cut, he collapses to the ground and doesn't move, leaving them alone.

Credence is on one side of the observational screen.

Gellert Grindelwald is on the other.

"You look like you've been doing well." The man is much diminished. Credence hadn't seen him, not in person, no, but he'd caught pictures of him from The Ghost on the desks of absent Aurors. His eyes don't match, his hair unnaturally white, he looks at Credence like one looks on at a pet that has gotten out and made a mess. "I said you were a miracle Credence, do you understand how very special you are now?"

Credence is silent, trembling. Maybe it is anger, most of it is fear though.

"My friends went to so much trouble to set up this meeting, the least you could do is respond to my questions, child." He's undoubtedly European, but not in the kind gentle way Newt Scamander had been, with an accent that had been soothing. And no, maybe Credence is mostly angry. "Or would you rather a different face?" Credence knows what's coming, but the wandless magic settles over the Dark Wizard who had pinned his Knight to the floor like a butterfly, and he wears Mister Graves like a mask again.

Credence lashes out at the observational wall, which is when he falls right through it, his wand dropping on the floor outside and rolling as it's knocked out of his hand by the barrier spell. Grindelwald as Mister Graves grabs him by his robes and hauls him up, "I was here first my boy, I'm the one who matches you on the inside. Yes, there it is, My Obscurial, you are so beautiful."

Credence screams, wordless, he can't tear this face apart, he can't, he's a violence, fighting against everything inside of him and the room, and he'd tear the world apart before he could tear this man’s face apart.

Grindelwald drags him in, "What lies have they been teaching you, what have they been telling you? They'll never have a place for you, Credence, we have to make one for you. You belong with me, by my side, right here."

The back of his neck is taken and held, commanding, controlling. Lips crush against his, promises, promises. He tastes blood, he doesn't want this. He can't. He retreats into smoke and whispers, and the smoke hides against the ceiling what he was; there is only pain.

He's still there when Mister Graves and the cavalry arrive, prisoner subdued. Mister Graves picks Credence’s wand up and puts it into his robes. He tries to talk Credence down, but he doesn't come. Maybe he'll melt into the walls instead and finally belong here, become a part of MACUSA forever and thus impossible to separate from this world, maybe they'll write him a plaque. He doesn't want to be himself anymore.

Chapter Text

Tina is the one who gets him to come back, in the early hours of the night. Soft words and promises that no one else is there, he can come down now. She takes his hand when he does and leads him quietly back to his cell. It's empty, just Tina and all the books, his sleep clothing still on the bed. The painting he hadn't managed to fix.

Tina tells him they're looking through wands again, that Auror Penn and seven others were hit with imperio, and that they're on full alert and that he's safe. She asks if he wants her to stay.

He doesn't say anything.

She leaves after a time. Queenie stands in the doorway later; he's not asleep but she doesn't stay anyway, she leaves crying, and he's not crying; he doesn't know what he is.

He doesn't sleep, time passes. Someone brings breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Someone brushes his hair back and begs him to eat, Tina, and he should try for her, he should try.

Breakfast, lunch, "Please Mister Graves you have to-" Queenie outside, and the door shuts as another tray is taken out. No one else comes in.

It's very early or late, depending on your point of view; a voice whispers memories when the door opens, and his back is to the room so he doesn't see, but he knows by the sound of clack tap clack. The bed creaks as a body uses it to help the kneeling go easier.

"Lord forgive me, it's been a very long time since I've prayed," Mister Graves whispers, "I ask you to keep us, I'm not an eloquent minister and my theologian is indisposed, but I think you will find him worthy of your attention, good lord I have."

"I wanted only to protect him, and I'm the thing that has hurt him the most, so please, give us a little help. I can't do this without him. I’m selfish and cruel, but I can’t."

"Mister Graves." Credence murmurs, it's the first he's spoken in days, his voice is raw and brittle.

"Amen."

Credence rolls over in the bed. In a good story this is where Mister Graves would hold his face gentle between his hands, he would press their lips together soft and sweet and write over the gashes in Credence's heart shaped like another man's hands and teeth. Instead Mister Graves reaches out and runs his thumb against the split lip Grindelwald had left him with and heals it with a single brush.

"I shouldn't have left you here alone; I should have known it's what they'd been planning." Mister Graves is as shot through with guilt as Credence has ever been.

"You're very bad at praying."

Mister Graves laughs, and then he's sobbing, drags Credence into a rough embrace, buries his wet face against Credence's throat. Credence holds him, half off the bed. He goes all the way off when Mister Graves pulls him into his lap on the floor. They rock together, Mister Graves' tears hidden in him, Credence breaking apart. "Please," Credence begs, "Can we go home?"

"If you'll still have it." Mister Graves whispers. Of course he will, of course he will, Credence kisses his temple, shakes to pieces and is put back together again.

"I would like nothing better." Credence swears it.

Mister Graves shrinks things and puts them away into Credence's bag, they stay touching, fingers locked loosely around a wrist, arms falling together, legs tangled up at one point. It's so early, the hallways are silent as the dead. No one stops them, but there are so many aurors about that could. They're still looking for them, then. Credence is tired, he's also starving. Things are beginning to come back to him, and he doesn't necessarily want them. It was easier to shut down, to not have to think.

There is a wide portion of his life he wishes he could cut out of himself, replace it with emptiness, or pour in something wholesome. He's bursting at the seams with awful things, blood and broken bones, fractured glass and compromises.

Mister Graves' hand falls to the small of his back and the world settles just a little bit more. "You don't need to tell me what happened, but you need to tell someone. Queenie?"

Credence considers and he shakes his head. He owes the man an explanation. "I'll give you my interview." He's not stupid, he knows that MACUSA needs his report of the incident.

"Whenever you're ready then, Credence." They're walking in the dark; it sounds so strange to be outside again. The cell had a supernatural quiet to it, charms put in place probably.

Whenever he’s ready, but he’ll never be ready, he wants to forget everything that happened, but he can’t.

“Auror Penn came into the room; he wasn’t himself. There was something strange with his eyes.”

“When used by the unskilled or without regard for safety, Imperio leaves visible traces."

Credence holds himself tightly, "Is he recovered?"

He feels the gentling before it even begins, the static in the air between them before Mister Graves soothes up his spine, "He hasn't woken up yet; the mediwizards are confident it's only a matter of time."

"He told me to come with him, he led me to the cell. Everyone was on the ground. I was afraid they might be dead. When I had been delivered, Auror Penn fell too." He takes a breath, steady, just breathe like he'd told Felicity, like Mister Graves had told him. "He told me I was a miracle, he took your face. I went to hit the wall and fell through it."

Mister Graves is still stroking along his back. They're not apparating. Credence has no doubts that the man with him is the real Mister Graves, prayers on his tongue, but he wonders if they're going to walk the whole way home. He doesn't even mind, he's walked far longer distances.

"I wanted to attack him, but I couldn't, not when he was wearing your face." Just breathe, "He kissed me and I hid on the ceiling."

Mister Graves' hand trembles against his back, palm flat, soaking up warmth. He lets it fall away and Credence can't take it, he can't. That man isn't allowed to take this from him, not this too. "He said I'd never belong, that my place was at his side, but he's wrong." Credence turns, catches Mister Graves by the lapels. A week ago, three weeks ago, Credence would never have been able to do this, not with Mister Graves looking down at him like he's broken open, like Credence is every guilt he's ever had.

"Credence." Mister Graves won't touch him, just like before, until that circle of bruise around his arm, until they'd cracked open and fallen together.

"Tell me where I belong, show me." Please Percival, and Credence is the Fisher King, Credence is the boy from Avalon with cursework in his blood, Credence is a hawthorn wand, a moth to the flame, he is the Obscurial, and he's a witch, he's an invert, he's everything his Ma had called him.

Mister Graves touches him, four in the morning, cups Credence's face in his hands, stands chest to chest, "You belong with me, my boy."

Credence closes his eyes tightly, the smile on his face feels brittle, "Then you rescued me, and now we're here."

"Have I really?" Mister Graves apparates them, the doorman is there as he always is, nods them up, and the apartment is dark and cold. Mister Graves doesn't bother turning on the lights; they go straight to the bedroom, Mister Graves' own, and he's shaking before they even get there. Mister Graves lights the fire with a tap of his wand and then his hands hover over the clasp to Credence's robes.

"Do you think I'm still on the ceiling?" Credence whispers into the holy silence between them.

"I think I'm afraid of making things worse for you, that I've just drawn you into another web. I think you need healing and security, and I'm not secure, but I can't let you go. I don’t know how to, I never have."

"Then don't."

Mister Graves undoes the clasps on Credence's fine thick robes, he unbuttons his vest. "I have wanted nothing more than I've wanted you." It's not a full admission, no, but that comes in the way Mister Graves slides the suspenders from Credence's shoulders, pulls his shirt from his slacks. Credence's question is answered a few days late; Mister Graves takes him right out of his clothing, slides his pants over his hips with firm hands. He then helps Credence into his sleep clothing, which isn't how Credence would want this to have gone, but he's too tired to question it.

"I want you too."

Mister Graves smiles, thin, repressed, dry humor and self-derision, "I've known that from the beginning."

Of course he would, he had known too – the mask was used for a reason after all.

Credence finds his hands brought up, arranged against the lapels of Mister Graves’ robes. Together, their hands push the robe off Mister Graves’ shoulders. Credence trembles anew, his mouth goes dry, he wants so much. He’s so tired and disjointed, the moment feels surreal and his hands shake, so Mister Graves raises them to his lips, kisses his knuckles. “What were you going to ask me before, in the records room?” Credence has to know, he needs to know. It’s later now, and it’s after now, after everything that wasn’t supposed to happen.

“I was going to ask for a token of your affection for me, because at heart I’m still a bastard.” Mister Graves draws their hands back in then, along onto his waistcoat, just hovering close enough to encourage Credence’s hands to tackle the buttons on their own, and he does, “I think right now, we’re beyond my capacity for going slow. I think at this point I am too broken to remain responsible in concern to you.” The guilt is palpable, so is the hunger.

Credence wonders if this means he should be the responsible one for them, eternal damnation and such. Ma would be scandalized that he was so apathetic about his own soul and only concerned for Mister Graves in a cursory way, “I don’t want to be the reason you’re damned to hell.” He decides.

Mister Graves takes a careful breath, “No worries there, Credence, if anything you’re too good for me. Circe’s smile, Sweetheart, from the first moment you looked at me from across the street I knew what you were thinking. I need not be a legillimens of Queenie’s skill to read the face of a man who wants to be ruined. I was playing with fire, or I guess shadows, from the first words we shared. I’m the one damning you.”

Credence pushes the vest off, it falls to join the robes below them. “I wanted you so much.” His hands are actually shaking too badly to unbutton his shirt, but he tries, focusing on the one at Mister Graves’ throat. He’s not wearing his tie, but it was the middle of the night when he’d come to pray for him. There is no token higher than that for Credence, kneeling and speaking to God in his regard. Credence has been prayed for before, but not like that.

“Will you give me a token of your affection, Credence?”

If this were a good story, a wholesome one, a love story built on the courtly definition of it, Credence would give a cherished belonging, a kerchief, a poem, a lock of hair. If this were a fairytale they wouldn’t be here in the middle of the night with naught but firelight to illuminate them. It’s not a nice story, but it’s Credence’s, and he is finally owning himself. He’s not death this time when he tilts his head: he is a witch, his Ma screeches; he is an invert; he is a harlot.

Mister Graves opens his mouth to the kiss and tangles Credence up in his arms, Credence’s hands trapped on the third button down, his eyes closed so he can focus. It is a slow brush, careful and open with the press of a tongue to his bottom lip. It is not teeth or violence, it is not claiming dominion. Credence already belongs to him, whole-heartedly, the very symbolism of the kiss a confirmation of his claim, his token of affection taken and kept not as a physical belonging but as words written on a soul.

Mister Graves groans against his mouth, open and raw, hungry in a way Credence has only ever dreamed someone might be for him. It is a forbidden thing, and one he will never let go of for the rest of his life. His heart is beating frantically, finally, finally everything he's wanted, which is when his legs give out, and he collapses in the ring of Mister Graves' arms, held up only by his strength.

Mister Graves makes a sound of surprise and then laughs softly, burying his face in Credence's hair, "Sweetheart, I don't think I've ever had someone collapse on me from a kiss. It's time for you to sleep."

Credence groans; it's a helpless upset sound, "No, I'm fine."

"I'm irresponsible, but I'm not abusive. Let me care for you, my Lumos."

Credence feels his weight shift, Mister Graves taking him to the bed and laying him out, but this time when Mister Graves braces above him Credence is free to look up at him, to reach up and pull, and it's not his full weight but it's a gentle impression, Credence moans, face flushed. "Mister Graves." Breathless, he watches as the sound of his voice brings a turning darkness to the eyes of the man above him.

Lips wetted, Mister Graves' attention drops from his eyes to his lips and then back. He brushes Credence's hair back, tender hands despite the heat in his gaze, "You can call me Percival you know, Credence?"

Carefully, Credence reaches up to ruin equally carefully styled hair, to drag his palm against rough jaw and a day's worth of stubble, "I know, Mister Graves." The man drops his head till he's got his lips pressed to Credence's throat; the groan he makes runs Credence all the way through.

"Fuck, my boy, you've no idea what you do to me."

"I will, you'll show me, won't you?"

"Not right now, no. You need to sleep and then you need to eat."

Credence draws him down, and it's so easy to lead him in, just a little, to tilt his head against the pillow till they're kissing again. He wants this, he wants it so much. The difference between all of the dark imaginings and the weight of Mister Graves over him, the slow wet press of their lips, it's sunlight on petals, and he might be the one to be called lumos, but Mister Graves is his light too.

The kiss breaks and Mister Graves take his weight back.

"I thought you weren't capable of responsibility in respect with me anymore." Credence challenges.

Mister Graves laughs sharply, "Alright maybe a little responsibility." His hands are so tender against Credence's hair, his face, against his throat and shoulders. "You need to rest."

He's exhausted, it is the sad truth of it. His body is hollowed out with his fatigue, his bones hurt, the only sweetness in his body right now is the weight of Mister Graves' hands and the softness of the mattress under him. "And you."

"And me." Mister Graves finishes his disrobing while Credence watches and he climbs under the blankets, gathers Credence to him.

They tangle together, and Credence finds it's easier than it should be to sleep so close to someone else when he's been alone inside for so long. There are nightmares maybe, but each time he wakes up it is strong arms and tired smiles, Mister Graves groggily shifting closer. They sleep long into dawn, and when Credence's hunger far surpasses his fatigue he finally manages to wake enough to find pages turning and Mister Graves petting his hair.

"We forgot to go to the grocer." Credence only feels a tiny bit of guilt. It is so easy to ignore, what a sinner he has become.

"I'll order in." Mister Graves drops a kiss to Credence's shoulder.

Mister Graves leaves him to the bed, plush blankets; it is here he is lying alone when the fire flares up green and a very quietly furious looking President Picquery steps out of the fireplace, stomping ash from her fancy boots. She looks at Credence, sitting up in bed with his hair a mess and their combined clothing strewn on the floor.

"See," she says very measuredly, "I'm not as surprised or repulsed as I should probably be." She brushes ash off the bottom of her long skirt, a flick of her hand and a chair swings toward her, she sits in it straight backed, waiting for Mister Graves to return, and Credence, helpless to do much more, waits with her.

Chapter Text

"It's my fault, it's all my fault, I-" Credence tries but she shakes her head at him, his words all die in his throat.

Mister Graves enters the room, pauses with a box of pastries, and then carefully closes the door behind him. "Croissant, Sera?" She takes one from the box and he drops onto the edge of the bed, holding the box open for Credence who takes one if only to be polite, too nervous to actually eat right now.

"You took the Obscurial from MACUSA custody without permission and against explicit orders from Congress."

"He's safer with me." Mister Graves shoves a croissant into his mouth.

"This is why no one knew it wasn't you Percy, because you're impossible, prideful, and take everything on to yourself. How long have you been sleeping together?"

"We've just been sleeping." Credence whispers, he knows exactly what she means.

"Oh, you've just been sleeping?" President Picquery arches her eyebrow and waves her hand, with croissant, at the floor to display their combined clothing in disarray.

"He was too tired for anything else." Mister Graves seems to revel in the glare the president throws him.

The president stands and paces the room a little, "Do you know the kind of trouble I've been fielding for you, just to find you here, in a position that is extremely compromising?"

Mister Graves sighs, "I told you, Seraphina. I told you that their decision threatened to undo a length of work that might never be rebuilt. It’s me; I’m the thing being rebuilt, and this is the cost of it. I was being responsible. I was being circumspect. I kept MACUSA in mind at all times. I served as Director after I had already submitted my replacement. I put my trust in MACUSA."

"The committee Day formed is demanding access to your apartment again to search for the Obscurial."

"If you don't move to block them from moving him out of my custody, I will vanish and take him with me." Mister Graves is serious, and the words pull out of him like they are the most painful thing he’s ever said in his entire life, hollow and broken.

President Picquery stiffens, "You can't do this to me, Percy."

Credence shudders, "I can just go back." He's wanted, it's what matters the most, and he can't let Mister Graves lose his whole life's work over this, not when he's been fighting so hard just to hold on to it.

"Absolutely not." Mister Graves bites out.

"Fine, fine, then he's going to my house." Seraphina Picquery considers the croissant and then starts to eat it as if it's an afterthought. "The committee can come and search for him, you spend the day doing your actual job, Percy, and Mimsy can keep him entertained."

Mister Graves inclines toward him, "Mimsy is the Picquery estate house elf."

The president tilts her head, "Where is Pipsquee? How is she even letting you leave your clothing around like this?"

"I haven't found her yet."

"Merlin's tits Percy, how do you get out of the bed in the morning without strangling yourself on the bedding?" She finishes her croissant. "Credence, go get dressed."

Mister Graves pats his knee, "Go on."

Credence leaves the room with Mister Graves discussing the investigation with the president and his discarded clothing bundled into his arms. He is thankful for his sleep clothes: one, because of the President’s unannounced arrival, but also because the temperature in the flat is enough to make his breath puff out before him.

He dresses and finds his wand tucked into his bag safe and sound. Standing in his room, he then quietly panics. He doesn’t want to leave Mister Graves, not now, not after everything, especially the revelations of the night before. He’s wanted, Mister Graves needs him emotionally, physically there is clearly interest and on Credence’s part there is love, has been love. Hope has always feels like pain in him, but Mister Graves’ regard for him has to be in some part affection, doesn’t it, clearly?

He’s second guessing himself. It doesn’t really matter if Mister Graves loves him like Credence loves; he wants to care for Credence, to take care of him, to share his home and bed. It’s more than Credence has ever been loved by anyone in his entire life. He doesn’t want to stay hidden in the President’s house, he wants to stay with Mister Graves, or if needed with Tina, to help her work the case, to be useful.

“The bird.”  He murmurs to himself, putting the pastry down on the fireplace mantle.

He goes all the way back to the bedroom, struggling with the clasp on his robes and the knotting of his scarf. “The bird.” He repeats.

The President is eating another croissant. He wonders if Mister Graves isn’t the only one who can’t cook.

“What?” Mister Graves is doing up his tie, he already looks put together, clean-shaven, Credence laments the loss of something he’d barely had to begin with.

“The contraption in the hall, there was one in the bookstore too.”

“Metal greeting birds aren’t that particular, I mean you see them all the time.” Mister Graves dismisses.

The President doesn’t though, she holds up her hand, looking thoughtful, “I have one of those in my office, it alerts when someone is outside, a simple charm for detecting visitors.” She frowns, “Percy has never been big on art despite his family collection, so he would not know that there is only one crafter in New York for them. Several staff have amassed quite a collection of contraptions- myself, Congressman Day, and Healer Monroe among others.” She looks down at her pocket watch, “They’re going to be here in fifteen minutes, are you ready Credence?”

He nods, and Mister Graves draws him in and kisses his cheek right in front of the President. Credence wonders if this is illegal for them, if he’s going to be Mister Graves’ downfall in more ways than he even suspected he might be. He’s red as a beet and the President looks unimpressed with her Head Auror.

“Come along, son.” She commands, and he’s not sure what he’s expecting, but it’s not for her to take out a small bag and hold it out to him. The insides are powder, ash, he realizes. “Percival hates floo travel because he had a stutter when he was a child, so I know you’ve never done this. You step into the fireplace,” At this she waves her hand and the fire dims a little, “Concentrate clearly on your destination and speak the name without any deviation or hesitation while throwing the ash at your feet.”

She drops a handful of the ash into the flames and then steps into the fireplace, and Credence understands now why they’re all so large, “Picquery Manor.” She flings down more of the ash, and then she’s gone.

Mister Graves fixes his scarf for him, “I do like art, just usually as it relates to history. Keep safe for me.”

“You will be in my prayers, sir.” Credence steps into the fireplace because if he doesn’t quickly he’s never going to leave. “Picquery Manor.” He says with as much force as he can and throws the ash down, cringing.

It’s not at all like apparating but it’s equally unpleasant. He sneezes and steps out of the fireplace.

The sitting room to Picquery Manor is huge, hung with tapestries, it looks like a castle and the decor is so vibrant and full of splendor and elegance that Credence feels like he’s in a museum.

Standing next to the President is a very small creature that Credence is aware is a house elf; she has on a frilly apron and very large eyeglasses with no glass in them. “Credence this is Mimsy. She came with the house back when it was Penrose Manor, but she’s very loyal to me and she’ll look after you.”

“Hello Master Barebone.” Mimsy curtsies and then snaps her fingers, and much of the ash on Credence vanishes.

“Mimsy, Credence will be staying here for the day. I will be back to take lunch with him and will be bringing a party of three to join us.”

Mimsy nods. She steps up to takes the edge of Credence’s robes and tugs him along like a nanny would their small charge. She is aggressively strong for her size, and Credence trips after her.

“Credence, mind Mimsy. I need to make sure our mutual friend doesn’t hex people for touching his things again.” She steps back into the fireplace and then in a flash of green fire and a puff of smoke she’s gone.

"The study is nice, you'll like it there Master Barebone." Mimsy assures him but he doesn't feel anything like assurance, just despondency. They're walking down a hallway that Credence feels would make more sense in a church, large picture windows and high ceilings, when Mimsy stops them.

There is a sound above like rain on the roof, Credence can barely hear it; shortly after, a blast like a crack of lightning occurs from the study. Shouting voices and another crack roll through the building, and before Mimsy can stop him Credence is running back toward the door they'd left from.

President Picquery is holding her side, the brilliant green and black of her dress lightly singed around her hand. Mister Graves has blood coming from his hairline, a great amount of dust on him. Credence pauses, ashen-faced in the doorway; the fireplace has been broken right in half and collapsed on the hearth, brickwork is crumbling apart. The sound of rain is louder, and Credence looks up at the empty space that reveals the open sky. What appears to be hundreds of birds peck away at a shimmering barrier above them.

Mimsy rushes past him, a card in her hand, "Mistress Picquery this just arrived for you."

"Attack on MACUSA." President Picquery clutches her side harder, stands straighter. "Jokes on them, he's already been moved to the boat." She sounds viper sharp, so angry and composed.

Mister Graves whistles out a breath; it sounds like it's rattling in him, and Credence is terrified by the sound. "Seraphina, we need to go." He holds his hand out toward Credence who comes over on swift feet, afraid that if he doesn't Mister Graves will vanish without him. The rain sound of pecking continues, louder.

President Piquery glares up at the sky and steps over to join them, "Mimsy, the winter house if you would."

With a blink much easier than the rush of apparitions he's experienced thus far they come to stand in a relatively dusty sitting room. It is balmy in comparison to the frosty chill of the wide rooms of Picquery manor but decorated just as vibrantly with furniture and larger pieces of what must be statuary covered over with sheets. Mister Graves drops onto a covered sofa and coughs up blood against his hands.

The President collapses onto a chair. "Just like old times." She sounds wryly amused. Credence fidgets, desperate for something to do; he can feel the pain of the lash, the black, the noise. For all of this, he remains remarkably well fitted together.

"What can I do?" He asks. Already Mimsy appears to be busying herself cleaning; Credence is far more concerned with the blood on the others, the carefully composed and put away pain.

"Bathroom on the second floor. Go fetch out all of the purple glass bottles." President Picquery directs him, and he's off like a shot.

It takes a few windows, a few passed balcony doors to realize the temperature isn't the only difference. The city outside is spectacularly separate from everywhere he's been before, and he only spares it a glance while he's checking all the rooms for the bathroom, each opened door another glimpse to a different part of the world outside. The bathroom isn't too dissimilar from Mister Graves' own. Checkered floor tiles, a very old bathtub, gold fixtures. The bathroom mirror swings away to reveal a medicine cabinet similarly outfitted to the one he has grown used to, but with the personal things on a shelf midway instead. Everything is dusty, and he blows at it and takes as many purple things as he can hold down with him.

Mister Graves has listed sideways on the sofa and is breathing shallowly, blood pooling out to stain the white cover sheet beneath him, he’s not moving, his eyes shut.

"Little purple bottle with the gold crown cap, Credence." President Picquery nods her head toward Mister Graves, drawing her hand from her side so that the heavy sweet-sick scent of burnt flesh threatens to make him sick, but he pushes through it, kneeling by the sofa and struggling with the bottles. He finds the one with the crown and tilts Mister Graves’ head back gently, helps him drink like he did when Modesty had been sick and hadn't woken for days.

"Now the one with the green snake on the label." She sounds so stable. Credence breathes to the cadence of her words. That bottle goes next, easier now.

"The one with the red pepper on the label. Just a few drops."

When he's tapped a few drops, Mister Graves coughs awake, grasps him and holds, rolling all the way over till his shoulder and half of his face are smeared with blood. More coughing, but it's strong. Blood comes up and Mister Graves groans. He looks up at the room and his focus is blood smear like battle paint tracking Mister Graves’ strong features, eyes alert and dangerous dark.

"Percival, a hand?" President Picquery lets her arms collapse against her sides, she looks fever sick with pain, perspiration.

Mister Graves lurches up and goes to his knees before her chair, prodding the wound in her side, prying the very edges of singed cloth away from seared flesh, "Out of breath from just this pithy thing? For shame Sera." Mister Graves keeps his tone light. Credence is staring at all the blood, his body trembling.

"Says the man who just passed out from a punctured lung."

"Take a breath for me, Sera."

"You bastard." She hisses and the dress draws off from the skin it's been fused to all the way, she doesn't cry out, doesn't close her eyes, her jaw goes tight and fresh blood flows. Mister Graves puts his hand against her side and gently presses.

"Remember that time my leg got crushed by the support pillar that Ramsey boy brought down when he was trying to escape the raid? What was that, our second year in the department?" The blood on his hand draws away, draws back into her maybe; he rubs his thumb gently along the stretch of her ribs soft with affection.

"Yes, I broke my clavicle." She breathes shallowly, focuses on his shoulder, "I think Terrance Clearwater quit over that. Why?"

"When we stop recovering that quickly I submit for your consideration a movement that we retire from politics."

"It was supposed to be softer work, you know?" She muses.

"Credence," Mister Graves directs, "Bring the bottle you're holding over here."

She takes two drops and then breathes deeply and frowns down at her ruined dress. "This cost more than a unicorn horn, irreparable. These are hand-dyed imported fabrics, Percival."

"You say this like it's my fault the investigative committee was replaced with Grindelwald supporters. You're lucky you weren't there when they first got in. Look at all the blood on my robes; I'll have to take them to be dry cleaned."

Credence puts his trembling hands to his face and cries until Mister Graves is holding him, rocking him back and forth like the slowest dance.

"It amazes me you have the capacity for tenderness, you know?" The President speaks quietly from the door to the hall, "Mimsy come clean the kitchen, we'll need to have a place to prep."

It's quieter then, just his own sobbing sounds, breathing, the creak of the floor; soon even his crying has abated, "I'm sorry, sir."

"None of that my boy." Mister Graves kisses his temple.

Credence shakes his head, still trembling, and Mister Graves presses their lips together before he can hate himself any more than he does already, before the vitriol can spill out of him. It is soft, careful. It’s blood tinged, but the difference is so sharp and clear from the forceful taking of the man who wore people as a mask, giving comfort as much as he takes. As much as Credence needs him, it’s returned, it’s returned.

"No, Credence, you haven't done anything wrong, and you're holding up better than anyone should ever ask you to." Mister Graves draws away only enough to work his wand between them, "Tergeo." He whispers and the blood vanishes from his face, his neck, leaving only a deeper pattern of black on his robes. He does the same to Credence.

"I'm sorry this has happened to you. That I've put you into danger again." Mister Graves rubs his thumb against Credence's cheek, across his bottom lip. "I'm sorry that this has been what was given you, that a man like me has fallen in love with you." Credence’s head swims with the admission; he feels faint. It has very little to do with the man holding him up, and more to do with no food and too much blood, too much movement, but he feels like he’s floating with the admission. "Now that you're seeing what my life is like more often than not, I'd understand if you wanted to throw in  the towel."

Credence's hands tighten against Mister Graves' shoulders. Despite the best efforts of the spell, his mouth still tastes of blood, deep and black. It is the blood of the man who loves him and not his own, he knows, his eyes flash white, fog rolling over, "Nevermore." He hisses it like a curse, means it just as much.

Mister Graves kisses him again, deep and passionate, desperate. Credence clings and gives as much as he takes, careful teeth, shivering. It quickly becomes too hot for his heavier robes; Mister Graves draws him out of them as if he can read that, tucks Credence's wand into the knotting of his scarf between kisses.

"She'll hex me if I don't go help her plan how to secure MACUSA," Mister Graves apologizes, pushing Credence's hair back from his face.

"I love you too." Credence whispers. It is remarkably painful to say it right now; he can only imagine what it had felt like for Mister Graves, who reaches out and pulls him in one more time, not for a kiss, no, but for a steadying embrace.

"Are you still praying for me?"

"Always sir, someone has to."

A soft breathless laugh against Credence's jaw, "Sit in here, rest. I'll bring you something to eat."

Credence stiffens in his arms, "Mister Graves? I would like to come with you. I would like to help."

"I can't ask that of you, Credence."

"I'm not letting you, I'm asking you to allow me to help to the extent I am able, to not leave me behind somewhere safe where I can't even try to protect you." Like before, like what has just happened, watching Mister Graves die on a sofa.

"You're not an auror, you're not even a trained wizard. You've got one spell and a bag of tricks that might do more damage to you than would be worth us to utilize. You're, for lack of a better word, a civilian in a battlefield."

"Please don't ask me to watch you bleed again and know I could have done something to prevent it."

Mister Graves' jaw tightens, his eyes shut tight, he clutches to Credence's shoulders, "You leave when I say you leave, you run when I say you run."

"Yes sir." Except it’s a lie.

“Why is this the only time you’ve said that, that I have trouble believing it?”

Credence leans up and in and kisses him because it’s the only answer he has. He’ll try to be obedient, he’ll try to be good, but he’s not very good at it. He’s never been very good at it, and all he can do is try.

Mister Graves kisses back, open and willful, hungry and desperate, and then he’s breaking and shucking off his own robes and drawing back and away. “Okay, okay. Come on then,” Mister Graves sighs and leads him along into the kitchen.

President Picquery has two mugs of coffee on the table already, she has a map and a lantern set up, there is a small stack of note-cards just like the initial one Mimsy had handed her. “We cannot apparate into the building, and they’ve got the entrances locked down. There are contraptions on most of the floors according to Lopez.”

“Where is she at?” Mister Graves leans over the map.

“Investigations, she has the night duty aurors with her, the dayshift hadn’t transferred in yet when the lockdown began. The attack started in unison with the run on your apartment.”

“They were looking for Credence then; there is nothing there for them and they followed us immediately to the manor when we flooed.”

“They have to know by now that Grindelwald was moved; the stalemate at MACUSA must be a diversion or a trap.” President Picquery takes another card from Mimsy. “The Department of Experimental Magic says they’ve taken their floor back, Felix reports minor casualties.”

“Does that mean deaths or broken bones?” Mister Graves frowns.

“It doesn’t say.” President Picquery puts the card aside.

“I can apparate in the building, probably into it too.” Credence offers very quietly. President Picquery looks at him slowly; Mister Graves looks like he wishes Credence hadn’t spoken at all, sick and desperate with it. “I did it before with the contraption outside Mister Graves’ office.” Credence reminds them.

“Your testimonies of the incident left much to be desired, understandable at the time.” The President considers, “Percival, was it apparition?”

Mister Graves nods sharply. “Silent, skilled, he took both of us. Scrambled Penn up a little, but I think that had more to do with the force following us along from the Confringo chained to the contraption. It wasn’t powered by him, he was channeling the Obscurus. We didn’t block house elves till we added them on to the restricted creatures list. He’s a being, no one likely even knew Obscurials could apparate at all, not having him on the list isn’t too surprising.”

“So then we can use Credence to get in and hop between departments.” President Picquery pats the edge of her dress where it’s still singed, “After I change. And we’ll need to gather some of the aurors from outside.”

Mister Graves is clearly against this but he says nothing outright, merely glances at Credence, “Understood?”

“Understood, sir.”

Picquery pauses on her way to the door, decisive quick steps stilling as her heels clicked to a stop. “Heavens, Percy, does he call you that in bed? No. No I don’t want to know.” She goes to the stairs, shaking her head.

Mister Graves laughs a sharp and joyful sound, it has bitterness in it but Credence revels in the honesty. Mister Graves is complicated, stubborn, broken open; he loves him so much. “She’s never going to let me live you down.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

Mister Graves reaches out to stroke his hair back from his face, “Now you’re just doing it on purpose.”

Credence smiles, soft, the slightest twitch of the lips. His stomach turns over at the flitting light between humor on Mister Graves’ face and deep sincerity, worry, pain, pain over him. Credence’s smile drops, so fleeting, and his gaze too, but a strong hand lifts up his face.

“No, Credence, I just,” Mister Graves shakes his head, “You’re beautiful and terrifying, because I don’t know how I survived before you. I wish you’d stay here, but I can’t expect to ask of you what I couldn’t give myself.”

“Mister Graves, are Tina and Queenie in there?” It’s a change of the subject but one that takes Mister Graves out of himself.

“No, they wouldn’t have been. I told Tina to take the day off so she wouldn’t be complicit in my abduction of you off MACUSA property. Queenie has today off usually, so she shouldn’t be there either.”

“Are you going to have them help?”

Mister Graves narrows his eyes at Credence, “Tina is a trained Auror, and her sister is a highly skilled witch.”

“I have a monster inside of me that almost caused a war after destroying a good portion of New York. Don’t worry so much, I’ve been in worse.”

Mister Graves throws up his hands, “You’ll do what you want anyway; you’re so stubborn.”

“I think, Mister Graves, I took that from you.” He pecks the man on the cheek, feels his own smile resettle in place against soft skin. “I love you,” he whispers.

“Help me interpret all of these maps; we need to find the best way to take back the main hall.” Mister Graves slips his arm around him, hand to the small of his back, and Credence leans into the work ahead of them.

Chapter Text

Credence learns much about the interior protections of the building, how this was less of a problem than it seemed to be. If necessary they could wait till nightfall, but even then their main trouble was the no-maj half of the building. With people coming in and out for work and appointments, it was too much of an exposure risk to take the building back with superior numbers.

The various Departments all had their own forms of security. With the President and most members of Congress out of the building, the hostages that could have been taken wouldn't be politically motivated. If any had been taken at all; the cards scattered on the table seemed to imply not. As the largest gathering place in the building and the easiest means of putting people inside, the main hall would need to be secured before most of the upper wings.

"How are they getting the cards to Mimsy?" Credence asks as she puts another one on the table. The Infirmary set off one of their contraptions and has structural damage they're repairing, no casualties, he reads.

"House elves. Many work at MACUSA. Not too useful in a fight, but good with spatial magic."

The President comes back in, pantsuit and a leather holster for her wand in the same fashion as Mister Graves' own. She looks more like an auror than he's ever seen her look, even the day they killed him in the subway tunnel. He hadn't stayed dead, but she looks more deadly now and he's very glad he's on her side this time.

"So we start high, I'm thinking. We move the aurors trapped in Investigations around as reinforcements, we'll cede the floor, force them into it after." Mister Graves taps the map and it slides around, ink moving like water on the page to reform a floor down. "We take the main hall, we can pull Felix's floor with us, and move out his wounded."

"This is a lot of apparition," President Picquery looks at Credence with a critical yet kind manner, "Are you up for this Credence?"

"Yes, Madam President."

She nods at him and then back at the map. "So Investigations first. The external arranged staff is down at Finnigan's."

Mister Graves nods, "Who is the one sending cards from outside?"

The President flips through her pile, "Potter."

"Good, he's got a head for offensive spellwork. We’ll need a diversion to move out the floors."

"Credence, if you would kindly demonstrate," President Picquery takes his arm gently, "Apparate me into the sitting room?" It is a level of trust he knows intimately that he hasn't earned on his own. That it is her regard for Mister Graves and the necessity of the day's events. He suddenly doubts himself, but he can't afford that, too many people need him. It's a terrifying reality, but one that assures him completely he has a place here now. Not to be used as a weapon no, but still complicit. Without warning for anyone, even himself, he apparates them, smoke and bone, red light and pain to the sitting room. President Picquery considers him as the sound of Mister Graves' brogues rush in from the hall. "Not bad, kid."

Credence breathes a sigh of relief.

Mimsy apparates them to the diner Mister Graves had taken him to last week, the one with the table with the Latin engraved into it, and now he knows the place as Finnigans. The aurors surrounding the table all look much grimmer than they had that morning, but no less caffeinated. Credence stands to the left of Mister Graves and is tucked under his arm. Too many people try to talk at once, so the President puts her hand up and everyone goes silent. Tina is across the table, and he's relieved to see her without a single speck of blood on her pastel teal suit.

"Auror Potter." President Picquery points at the man who looks momentarily caught off-guard; he'd been bent over a pad, making notes to send off via house elf. He stands sharply like he's going to attention, albeit a little delayed.

"Okay, so, Lopez says she can push to take the floor, Monroe says they're losing some structural integrity now, Day and Pearl say they're holding fast."

"We'll need to split our forces to handle the destabilizing infirmary and pull Investigations out. We'll need distractions. Auror Potter, I'm told you're skilled in that department."

He grins, "Yes ma'am."

"Goldstein, I'm putting you on the infirmary floor. Secure the patients and staff for movement. Any skilled legillimens are to go with her to help stabilize the situation; we've got some very sensitive patients there." The President leans over and gestures to Credence.

"Barebone is going to be apparating groups in. Auror Potter, you're in second, choose four aurors to go with you." She frowns, "Where is your partner?"

The grim grin slides off his face replaced with a pinched look Credence recognizes, for he's seen it on Mister Graves' face often enough: worry. "He went in early to check on a project he was assisting on in Experimental Magic. He'll be with Day or Pearl."

The president turns to Credence again, "When you find Auror Rose, make sure you bring him to me if we’re separated at the time. We’ll need him for the push to take back the main hall, provided he's still breathing."

Credence nods and very strongly hopes he is. He’s never had a cousin before and isn’t even sure if he really does now, but he feels some responsibility to at least care for this stranger's wellbeing.

"Alright," The President tips her hand, "Goldstein, you first then." Three aurors step around with her, Credence recognizes none of them, and Queenie isn't among them, but he sees her now, standing toward the very back of the crowd around the table, biting her lip. She looks up at him and tries to smile but it's all broken, none of it real.

Tina takes his arm, she looks at him all worry and beseeching, and he can't assure her properly, he can't even reassure himself. He just nods to her and whispers, "I'm fine." He thinks of the hallway they'd stood in a week ago after speaking to Felicity Langely. He was torn up and set adrift by his own usefulness, nothing has changed since then.

He grasps them not with his hands but with intention. The Obscurus tears him to pieces, but it's only temporary, pain is only temporary. His life has been a recurrent series of pains, a lesson in dying a little with each cruel twist, and he is full of anger and suffering. They're all in one piece, but the hall isn't, a section of the floor collapsed and the wall with the window Credence had pressed his face to is completely gone, replaced with a black void nondescript and terrifying. Tina kisses his cheek abruptly and pushes him, "Go!" She shouts right as a spell shoots past them, Credence obeys, disapparating from the floor with a fizzle of sharp energy.

He apparates back to Finnigans, hands pressed to his chest, cowering inward. He manages to catch Queenie's eyes immediately, she'd been waiting for him maybe, but he has nothing to offer her. Her sister is on her own now.

"Auror Potter, you next." The President moves them along, and Credence takes a measuring breath.

"Not that I'm doubting the skill of our domesticated Obscurus," one of the aurors with Auror Potter leans away from Credence, "But I'm not going to wind up torn apart like that skyscraper you cut through am I?"

Credence doesn't dignify him with a response. He knows right where he wants to be, at the window where Tina had turned the albatross out; the man is gasping for breath when they land, Director Lopez and seven others almost hex them to pieces, but Credence is quick on the wall. And the Obscurus twists and turns, and he feels his eyes still ghost-white, watching impassively, inhumanly as the man vomits from the rough reconstitution. It's not like apparition, not really, it's just close enough. Credence doesn't have his robes on, doesn't have Mister Scamander's gift, everything in him is too much, too wrong. Auror Potter taps him on the shoulder like he's done a good job.

The wall drops, the obscurus twist turns sickeningly back into him on an inhale; he's a little more human, but not quite enough. "Get out of here, Credence, it's not safe for you." Auror Potter encourages him, and Credence dissaparates again, pain twisting up his organs, shredding him up from the inside out. He remembers sharing chocolate with Tina, he remembers Mister Graves leaning in close, stealing him back with passwords and veiled affection.

Mister Graves actually catches him when he comes back in, stumbling forward. His face is wet, he's crying and he's horrified because he can't be crying right now. The pain is only temporary, they need him, and he belongs here. "We can find another way in." Mister Graves turns his head to the table.

"No, I'm fine," Credence promises.

The President shifts around, stands close, Queenie has shifted over too, and two more Aurors. "My office, we can move through to the other floors from there, and then you can rest a moment. Can you do this for us, Credence?"

He cannot respond this time. He can't take them to the office, but he takes them to the hallway outside, the many portraits, the soft carpet, Queenie is holding him up as much as Mister Graves is, who, wand out and at the ready, takes down two men before allegiances can ever be discovered.

President Picquery unwards the door and they take shelter partway in the room with Credence leaning up against the wall. The little silver bird above her door chirps pleasantly to announce their arrival.

Queenie gasps and goes down with him when his knees give out, "He hasn't eaten! He hasn't eaten in days!" She's holding his hands and he tries to tell her he's okay, but when his mouth opens oil-like smoke slips out, pain and violence. He drags his hands away from her.

Mister Graves tilts his head back, his grip sure, fearless as he forces Credence to look at him. Credence finds it hard to focus on anything else, "In his bag, Queenie, there's a bar of chocolate."

They feed it to him as the President monitors the door.

He had chocolate once before this life, at their old church, before the Pastor had proven to be too lenient in his views for Ma, and he had given Credence a piece of chocolate for helping him put out the hymnals. That first taste was just as forbidden and wonderful as this is. His head swims a little. Mister Graves' fingers are salt sweet, and Credence wishes desperately the circumstance was different. Queenie gently pushes his hair back.

"Either he comes with or he's left here." President Picquery announces and the two aurors at her side ready themselves.

Credence pushes himself up the wall, "With."

Mister Graves grits his teeth. "Please" He whispers.

Credence takes a measured breath, "Ready."

Queenie is holding his arm, her wand in hand. "I'll be with him, we'll be fine."

It isn't the energy of tearing himself apart – that's done so easily, easier than breathing, his body is accustomed entirely to the act of pain and discord, the suffering it has long sustained - the difficulty is in being whole again, healed, not torn apart, but a man of flesh and bone, not a discordant concept. Queenie strokes his arm as they move, Mister Graves drawing the rear, the President taking point. They are by far the two most vicious fighters, and Credence cringes each time they use a spell, everything threatening to fly apart at the seams each time.

Queenie holds him together, whispers to him. He realizes at some point she's telling him a story, but he can't keep the words inside his head, just the soothing cadence of her voice.

They set off a bird on purpose, all of them using their magic to contain the stored confringo curse to minimize the damage. Queenie wraps her arm around him. She's telling him about a rabbit, he thinks. They go down a set of steps. Metal clicking sounds, drawn wands and Queenie's whispering.

The floor they enter is secured indeed, and there are three bodies under thick curtains and five more chained together in a corner. Felix Day's face is bruised all along the right side and Director Pearl has a choke-ring around her throat when she's introduced to them. "We have some wounded." She flits her hand to four people sitting up against a series of desks.

One of them is Auror Rose, who stands with a limp. "Just a busted knee cap, it's regrown enough."

"Good, we need your skill in reconstructive magic. I'm going to bring the roof down on them in the main hall so we can get people through the door." President Picquery nods and one of her guard goes to help him walk.

Mister Graves immediately takes their place.

"Director Pearl, you and the unwounded members of your department are with me." President Picquery commands and the woman joins over, many of the huddled wizards and witches coming along. "Congressman Day, gather the wounded for apparition out. Credence, when you've taken them out go to the infirmary ward and help Auror Goldstein transport the other wounded out."

Congressman Day is pale, obviously winded, but he nods, standing straight.

Mister Graves catches Credence's eyes and he knows this is where they part. Credence has to trust in his prayers, has to keep faith that Mister Graves will still stand, it goes both ways. There is no affection they can share here in this place too brittle and filled with watchful eyes. He nods to Mister Graves, his head down in supplication, still in his prayers, sir.

Mister Graves smiles, there is no hesitation in him when he leaves, the President's right hand man again.

Congressman Day favors his right side heavily, gathering up the wounded left behind, "No, Lisa, leave that," he is gentle when he extracts a woman from her grasping of scrolls, "Yes, I know, but no one is going to want to steal that." He is gentle with the staff here. It is in great contrast to the man Credence had loathed based on Mister Graves' opinions.

Lisa, a small witch with dark skin, still manages to grab one scroll before joining them, and Credence's head swims at the scent of blood, the bone of her shoulder exposed.

"I can't take everyone safely." There are too many left.

Congressman Day nods sharply, "Leave me." He nods, "Go on."

Queenie takes a step back too, "I'll stay and guard him." She smiles and reassures Credence with a kiss blown to the air, "Go on honey, we'll be fine."

He doesn't stumble when he resettles in Finnigans, but he feels faint again, and his hands shake as he pushes a piece of chocolate into his mouth. He's gone before anyone can ask him questions; he doesn't have the time for their open faces.

He does stumble this time; it's probably what saves him from the first curse. Eyes wide, he collapses to his knees and watches as Queenie is thrown thirty feet, her body collapsing hard against the wall of the hall outside and crumbling down it. The door slams shut on the hall, and he can't see her anymore.

Congressman Day is ready when the Obscurus attacks, but of course he would be, he'd already tested his containment spell in the hearing.

Congressman Day can't use his wand for anything, just holding the Obscurus at bay, but he's good enough with his other hand not to need it; he twists and crashes a chandelier down, glass shattering and pelting Credence from the side, he rolls and misses some of it, a second collapses and Credence shatters himself apart. He is screaming when he reforms, blood and anger.

Congressman Day crushes his throat, drags him to his knees. Credence's body gives up the ghost, gasping for breath, too tired to resist. "What did he see in you? You who is so easily used, so easily trapped in the loyalty game?" Credence knows the sound of this pain, the trembling spine weak with want, the desire for affirmation; he knows this pain in front of him, mirrored. The Obscurus collapses too, back into him, shuddering, spent.

"Crucio!" A twist of the wrist, Credence can't scream, but oh, he would if he could, back bending almost as if to break. "I did everything for him, I gave up everything he asked, and you bend to a pretty word and empty promises! And when I tell him I’m not doing it anymore, I’m not, he casts me aside, like I’m expendable, unimportant!"

So much anger, "He still wants you delivered to him, tied up like a present." Congressman Day shakes his head. "He won't have you. Goodbye, Barebone."

His loosens his grip on Credence's throat to cast, and Credence drags up his wand, "Wingardium leviosa." It is nothing more than a whisper, desperation, and Congressman Day floats up along with shattered glass. It throws off the trajectory of the green arching light, the first casting goes far.

The second won't. Credence has nothing left, white-eyes, already a ghost, and he's been living on borrowed time for so long already. Queenie and Tina had been so good to him, a family of witches he should have had all along. Mister Graves, oh no Mister Graves.

Credence has so many regrets, so many, and he's still praying for Mister Graves, let God protect him, because Credence won't be there to do it. His eyes are almost shut, waiting, when Congressman Day gets slammed into by a door, and Credence watches in wide-eyed shock as the man is broken against a desk, falling limp to the floor wand rolling away from an open hand.

Mister Graves and Queenie are in the doorway, wands drawn together, and Credence sobs, shaking. He clings to them when they run to him, kisses to his hair and tight hugs.

He had met death already once before in the subway with the liar there, with Tina crying, but he hadn’t known he was looking it in the face that time, he hadn’t realized he was going to die, if only partway. He had known this time, and the difference is a chasm. He had been pain-filled then. Here he is shaking apart, grasping to them and desperate to retain the physical. Mister Graves is covered in dust, a scratch on his cheek. Queenie's left arm hangs limp, but they're all alive.

They stand together. They're not done yet, and Credence doesn't know any more if the day will actually ever be done, but Mister Graves steps over, leaving him with Queenie's grasping hand, to kick the door off Congressman Day.

His neck is broken, his eyes staring sightless at the ceiling just like Ma's had been, and Queenie sobs out a desperate sound, turning her head to hide it against Credence's arm.

"Don't worry, Miss Goldstein," Mister Graves intones, "Your charm merely knocked the door in. I'm the one who hit him with it." He has absolutely no remorse in his voice, no sense of loss or guilt. Credence remembers half a dozen times, you're not a killer Credence and no, Mister Graves would know, he is one.

Queenie tugs at his arm, "Tina still needs us."

Mister Graves looks at them, and Credence doesn't need his words to know the man wants him to be anywhere but right here: preferably someplace safe, someplace whole and stable and anywhere but here. The only stability Credence has ever known has been with him though; he nods at Queenie.

"I have to go back to Seraphina, they should almost be at the main hall by now." Mister Graves takes a breath, "Give me a lift if you can, Credence? I'm thinking the Catering Department."

Credence takes one last look at Congressman Day as Mister Graves rejoins them. He still has the pain of the curse he'd twisted into him like an echo of impression, but Credence has been hurt by people he's loved for years and years, it's so easy to let this go too. He knows exactly how Congressman Day felt. Overshadowed by a child, unimportant when he had given everything, and he wonders now how many people Grindelwald had living in that half-light of love, that promise of a place in his life, when it was all a lie. He suspects that he and Congressman Day are the least of it.

The catering department is in ruins, sugar strewn like snow, coffee beans and broken teacups. A small group of house elves is trying to clean it up. Mister Graves kisses Credence's throat, which is when Credence remembers the pain of it, right as it heals up. Mister Graves can't spare the spell but he does it anyway, leaving Credence his voice and breath. He turns then and Credence can't stand to watch him go; he apparates himself and Queenie away.

He has been three places in the infirmary ward: Felicty Langely's room, the hallway leading to it, and the room they'd put him to prod at him by wand tip and cold hand. The hallway had been dangerous, the room he'd been placed in had prevented him from leaving, so he took them to Felicty Langely's room, hope against hope it wasn't in similar dilapidation to the hallway he'd brought Tina to initially.

The room is empty and dark, an eerie light shining through the broken glass of the window, and Queenie stands still close to him, her wand pressed against his arm under her hand. The chocolate he ate before Congressman Day attacked him is hitting him now, sugar and some innate magic he'll probably never understand.

Queenie pats his arm, "Me neither, but I could use a nice cup of cocoa." She sighs, "Let’s go find Teeny."

Credence's dread, his pessimism is high, his thoughts circling around and down. He had caused devastation just like this, and what if Tina was hurt, what if it was worse?

"I'd know, honey." Queenie assures him soft voice and soothing. There is no light in the hallway, she casts a silent lumos and they carry on.

Even with the pearlescent light from Queenie's wand, soft and a shimmering white-blue compared to Mister Graves' steady gold, the ruins of the infirmary are a ghost story. They step over rubble and Credence helps her over a toppled over medicine cart, potions half burning a hole through the marble to the concrete below. They hear the buzz of voices before they make it to the matron's station, and two dozen wands held ready to hex them greet their journey around the last corner, Credence ready with eyes milk-white to run.

Healer Monroe bustles out, waving her arms frantically, "Put down your wands you hopped up goats." She is dusty when she comes up to them, lantern in one hand, wand in the other. Credence notes all the arranged are free of the wounds so prevalent everywhere else they'd been. But of course they would be with all of them capable of healing. He doesn't see Tina though, and dread washes over him. "Goldstein, lemme see that arm, looks like it's out of the socket."

Credence has to take a step back from Queenie, and starts when another mediwizard draws their wand around him; he recognizes the motion, a diagnostic spell. "Low blood sugar, intense fatigue, oh, oh." The mediwizard, a young man trips over his words, "Very over-stimulated for pain, b-but you'll be fine."

Queenie cries out, and Credence is violence and smoke, sharp red light and blades. Healer Monroe trips back into the younger mediwizard, and they both stumble. Queenie is crying softly, holding her arm, "No! Credence, it's okay!" she tries.

When he reforms, the obscurus flinging back into him violently, two dozen wands are trained on him this time, and he collapses onto the dusty floor.

Healer Monroe and Queenie turn him over, and he's half sitting, supported against Healer Monroe's slight frame like a child. The mediwizard who had first approached him is doing another swipe over him, and his vision grays over, like flickering storm lanterns in a heavy downpour. Queenie holds his hand and he realizes she'd been hurt by Healer Monroe putting her arm right. She’s fine, she’ll be fine.

That had happened to him once, hadn't it?

The doctor patting him on the head, telling him jovially to be more careful on the stairs, children shouldn't play on them anyway.

Credence had never played on the stairs, never. Healer Monroe holds his face still, opens his mouth. The potion is sweet, strange, he shudders.

"I don't know if that's what's best for you, but we'll see."

"Did Tina make it here?" Queenie asks her, wide eyes and hope.

Credence tries to sit up, but Healer Monroe is holding him still, an unspoken order to rest.

"Yes, she went to extract the north wing, told us to stay here where the building is more stable. Why are they even bothering with us? None of my staff are trained for offensive spell work!"

But they aren't after the mediwizards. Credence forces himself out of the embrace, up off the floor, tripping along, "Maximum destruction, oh no, oh no." He can't help Tina yet. He drags himself a step forward, and he remembers it's always easier if you have some momentum for the apparition, if you come out walking. It's not apparition, but it’s close enough. He hits a wall in the hallway that leads to the department Queenie worked in so hard his shoulder must bruise from the force. It's all a fizzle of heat on his skin, and he’s leaving a trail of oil-like sickness as he drags himself along the wall.

He's going too slow, and he closes his eyes. He'd found Mister Graves once before, pinned like a butterfly, he can find him again. He doesn't need to know what the room around him might look like, he just has to have faith. God has guided him, he belongs here, and he won't let it all come crumbling down.

He's a ghost, a monster, a collection of smoke and knives, of magnetic energy. He drops to the marble floor, Mister Graves takes a step back in alarm, and then quickly goes to his knees beside him. Credence considers for the first time since he'd realized he was the Obscurus that maybe Grindelwald hadn't been lying, maybe he really was in danger. Mister Scamander had all but shouted it at him, written in notes and in a case history Credence was so far removed from. He should be dead, and he wonders now if he's dying.

He can't feel the pain anymore. "You can't, they're going to try and reveal MACUSA to the world." It's the only thing that makes sense, "You can't collapse the ceiling, it would just help them."

The President, he doesn't see her till she's helping him to stand, "Yes, I considered that. But we have very few other options." Behind her are about thirty arranged wizards and witches, wands ready, barriers and further, actual barriers of stacked furniture too. Credence notes Auror Penn is there, and he feels dizzy with relief; he's awake then.

Credence looks at Mister Graves. His sleeve has been cut open, and there is a bruise on his jaw. He turns back to the President.

"I'll handle it." He cannot keep the mania from his voice, the hitched breath, fear, and he ignores the way eyes turn on him. They remember, they all know, even the ones who hadn't known before; they'd seen him arrive, corruption bleeding behind him. Cursework. He has the taste of the man who had helped make the metal shafts to pin Mister Graves, to kill that police officer, to curse so many, he has that in him now, but he was dark before that.

"No." Mister Graves commands.

"I'll bite." The President nods to him then, get on with it.

Mister Graves grabs his arm and yanks him around and Credence is barely on his feet. He doesn't want Mister Graves to realize that, but it's impossible when he ends up taking almost all of Credence's weight in the tug. "No." Mister Graves repeats.

He'd probably seen what Credence did when he’d let go before; they had things that could put a thought right above a person for everyone to see. He said he'd read Credence's file, and yet he's never been afraid of him. Credence isn't afraid of Mister Graves either, remorseless Mister Graves who killed a man who tried to kill Credence and went right back to work, cruel Mister Graves who let Credence continue to suffer because it was the legal thing to do but not the right thing, selfish Mister Graves who can't let him go.

Credence whispers, "I love you."

"No." Mister Graves repeats but his eyes know already as it is right there for Credence to read.

It's not really Credence. The Obscurus isn't Credence, it's a part of him, and sometimes the lines blur so much they're indistinguishable. He had been the one hovering over Mister Graves' nightmare, guarding Queenie, slamming Auror Penn and Mister Graves back away from a curse. It protects the host in a sick way; remove the threat, and for Credence that had never been the physical, no, but always the emotional.

Senator Shaw had been a threat, calling Credence and his family freaks, a threat of violence and power that had been devastating, a reminder of how little of that power he himself had, and it had made Ma so angry in that quiet way that always meant Credence would suffer for it, and he had.

Ma had been a threat too, not to Credence, oh God knew, Credence had suffered her punishments from the first day she had rescued him from the orphanage. But she'd been about to hit Modesty to make Modesty pay for that wand when she was just a baby.

The rest of it, Chastity, the people of New York, had been collateral damage to that beast born of him.

The threat now is to everything he could be, everything he's becoming. Credence gives up control of it again, again looking into Mister Graves' face, but this time at the real one.

Very quickly there is nothing left of him to think, to direct, there is faith but not trust, a prayer Lord let him not mess this up.

Chapter Text

After the subway Newt Scamander had tracked him down, smoke and desperation, the Obscurus or what was left of it clinging to its dying host. He'd been in the very bottom of the world or what had felt like the bottom of the world. He'd been in the deepest dark, a maintenance room for the in construction Holland Tunnel. Mister Scamander had been a voice in the dark then, a warmth of affection and a promise of safety Credence half mad hadn't even known he'd accepted until everything was pain and too much.

Mister Scamander had healed him, skittering hands, whispers, he was good with animals it was clear. It was with him that Tina learned he was still alive and that Credence had learned that the man who had promised him the world, promised him magic, promised him affection, had been a lie. It was a few short hours from his death that Credence had learned in the sick bed tended by Mister Scamander's gentle hands that Mister Graves was missing presumed dead.

Credence hadn't been controlling the Obscurus then either, he had longed, turning up aching fear inside, and it had saved him from something incrementally worse than death; a broken heart would surely damage him far more when Tina's words had given him the hope Grindelwald's hand had ripped away.

To bring Mister Graves back to life, to pull him from death, and that was how he'd found him with the dark heart of his yearning awoken.

Fifteen Dark Wizards Dead in MACUSA Attack is what the Ghost will write about it. Not Mister Fox, whose relationship with Congressman Day will be thrown into the limelight, who will give his own interview on page 4a about the man's collection of clockwork birds. Not a word about the Obscurus, and what is it but dead to the majority of the wizarding world, so the scandal moves overseas with the successful extradition of Gellert Grindelwald. Credence will remember this in time but not yet, too raw and unmade, in time he will remember tearing men apart, in time he will remember the Obscurus’ wants were his wants, safety, security, to have adoration, to be whole.

A picture under The Ghost’s headline of Seraphina Picquery sitting on high, Mister Graves on her right listening when she turns and says something in a whisper to him, President Picquery Standing Strong written beneath and nothing about Director Graves, nothing about Head Auror Graves, nothing about his young ward Credence Barebone. Behind them the phoenix rises up from the MACUSA crest, eternal, wise, death and healing.

Before photographers and reporters, before wands lifting to rebuild and to mourn, before the dust settles Mister Graves kicks in the door to his own office and finds Credence curled up under his desk, mostly dead and every bit drained.

Credence opens his eyes and the pillow smells like Mister Graves, which makes sense because it is the man's pillow. The room is soft with dawn light, it shows no signs of the fight that had resulted in the collapse of the fireplace at Picquery Manor but magic was like that. Credence showed no signs of injury either but the broken pieces were mostly inside of him, in his heart and in his head, as they had always been and he would have to wait till he grew out of the hurt. He's in his pajamas and when he sits up the lantern flares itself to life. His wand is laid right next to it, silver moon phases carefully turned to face up. Credence takes it delicately in hand and pulls on the dressing gown on the chair nearby so he has someplace to put it, even though it's Mister Graves' dressing gown and thereby much too big in the shoulders.

The apartment is fully lit and there is still a great deal of dust set into the carpet and a few paintings lopsided on the wall and absent their subjects.

Mister Graves is nursing a cup of coffee in the kitchen, blueprints spread out on the table. Seraphina Picquery is sitting across from him and next to her Tina is sleeping hunched over the table. Director Lopez is reading a paperback book with a cover of ocean waves constantly in motion, her feet up on the very edge of the table much to Credence's abject horror. Next to her Auror Rose is asleep with his face pressed to Auror Potter's shoulder; Auror Potter who is practicing turning a sugar cube into a beetle and then back again. Queenie is sitting on a counter with all the chairs taken up, reading a cook book that Credence notes is not magical in any apparent way.

President Picquery is the first one to notice him and she waves him over, "Good to see you up we were debating whether we should second guess Monroe and portkey Scamander over to prod at you."

Mister Graves practically knocks over his chair standing, it wakes up Auror Rose with a start, and Tina has her wand up not that it matters much to Credence who doesn't have the time to be alarmed about that. Mister Graves is kissing him, holding him right up off his feet till he has to brace his hands clutching to the man's shoulders. Credence has a moment of panic, considering that all of Mister Graves' coworkers and friends are in the kitchen, but then he is too tired to care, too tired and happy to be alive, to be forgiven, to be loved. Still remembering Mister Graves denying the inevitable, but this is forgivance and acceptance and he takes it.

He returns the kiss, eyes shut tight. Tina makes a distressed sound which is what drags him back, fearful he can't meet their faces, can't even look at Mister Graves who is surely realizing what a mistake he's just made.

"We were so worried!" Tina is crowding in, and Mister Graves has to let him go or get swept up too, she hugs him tight enough to almost hurt, crying against his shoulder. "It took hours to find you and then you wouldn't wake up."

Queenie hugs him next and then Mister Graves pets his hair back and Credence is waiting for everything to go wrong but it doesn't.

"How is pollito doing?" It's Director Lopez smiling nervously at him next, pinching his cheek like he's a toddler. He doesn't understand this affection yet, but he's not in the dark for long. The story is spun out, fractured by six different tellers, Mister Graves a silent participant at his side, hand at the small of his back.

The Obscurus had played merry hell with the small contingent of supporters in the main hall, and after the first few had fallen the group had been easily over run by the other wizards. It had next secured the medical wing, Tina explaining how Credence had smashed out all the windows and they were still finding some of the dark wizards floating around out in the spatial extensions. Director Lopez and Auror Potter tell him about the press downward through the floors and how Credence had mass transported them all in a whirl out of a trap of contraptions down to join the primary strike force on the main floor.

Finally it's Queenie who explains to him how they'd brought him back here and Healer Monroe had treated him and he'd been put to bed. She gives him some hot cocoa and kisses his cheek as the story ends and he finds himself a part of the group properly, welcomed in.

The blueprints are updating themselves on the table and President Picquery shows him it's the renovations currently underway when his gaze tracks floors shifting around on the paper.

There still isn't a chair free for him so he fidgets when Mister Graves sits back down, or he does until the man tugs his wrist and he gets the picture, perching himself on his knee, most of his weight taken by the curved arm around his waist.

President Picquery narrows her eyes at Mister Graves, "You know legally I have every responsibility to move him into impartial care."

Director Lopez and Queenie both make an alarmed sound but it's Director Lopez who speaks first, "He hasn't hit anyone with disciplinary action in a week you're not allowed. I'll quit."

"Just, must you be so blatant about your relationship, really Percy?" President Picquery sips her coffee, eyes focused on the ceiling. "You used to be moderately discrete."

Credence is unable to focus on any one person, and the thing is none of them are even looking at him. Auror Rose is fixing the sugar-cube beetle for his partner, and Auror Potter is paying attention to that. Queenie is looking at a picture of a baked ham. Tina is looking at her sister with a carefully neutral expression. Director Lopez is looking at the president, and when Credence turns his attention back to her too, she glances down from the ceiling and points at him.

"We'd made a deal, do you remember?"

Credence nods, "I've been keeping my end."

Mister Graves tightens his hold, "What deal?"

The President frowns at him, "None of your business."

Mister Graves sits back in the chair and Credence has a feeling he's just biding his time.

The President nods at Credence, "I'll extend that to you as well, I trust your judgment."

Credence nods, and just like that the moment goes back to the way it was before he'd even come in. People lingering in the kitchen because it was clear they had nowhere else to go and had been invited in. He couldn't imagine Mister Graves doing the inviting though, so it had likely been the president.

Auror Rose turns and taps the map, shifting something over. President Picquery argues placement with him while Auror Potter turns a series of sugar cubes into a variety of jewelry pieces. Credence shifts on Mister Graves' lap and flushes as the man's arm tightens around him again.

"Is it all over now?" It drops out of him, shell shock, Tina looks at him guilt in her eyes, Queenie makes a soft sound.

"It's never over." Mister Graves sighs. "Alright, everyone out. He's up and fine, you've all seen so you can take your map to Finnigan's and get out of my apartment."

The president makes an amused sound through her nose, blown out air and patience, "Prickly Percy, someone needs a nap." But she rolls the map up and one by one they all follow her lead. All except for Tina and Queenie who hang back. When the door shuts Mister Graves looks at them expectantly still sitting at the kitchen table with Credence perched on one leg.

"It's just, it came as a surprise is all." Tina fidgets with her briefcase handle. "Not for Queenie obviously but for me, I missed it completely and I mean how could I, I've been paying extra attention to everything after," she takes a shudder of a breath, "After what happened. I should have noticed you were, whatever it is you're doing."

Queenie pushes her sister with her shoulder, "She doesn't mean to be rude y'know it just comes out. We're both very happy for you if you're both content." She stresses both, and smiles.

Mister Graves leans his face against Credence's back, a sigh into his own dressing gown, "Goldstein and Goldstein, get out of my kitchen."

"We'll come visit you later and bring dinner." Queenie tugs her sister out, Credence can tell Tina is still worrying over things, still piecing them together, still concerned but it's not because of his interests, more it's in his interest and it's dizzying to be loved like that.

"Be safe." He calls after intent for both of them and when the door shuts and Mister Graves flicks his wand to do up the locks again Credence half turns his upper body, making Mister Graves drag his face along his back and then his arm, "Are you okay sir?"

"I thought I'd lost you when no one could find you, and then when we did find you, you wouldn't wake up."

"I promised I'd stay with you."

Mister Graves groans, "Fuck Credence, you're going to be the death of me. I'm too jaded for this kind of hope and affection."

"It hurts, doesn't it?" Credence slips his arm around Mister Graves' shoulders, puts his hand in the man's hair. "Can we go to bed now?"

"Sweetheart, I'd like nothing better."

Credence hangs on, lets himself be picked up with nary a sound, buries his face against the side of Mister Graves' neck and then he realizes with a tremor of excitement he can push further, he can kiss against the beat of the man's pulse, nuzzle his nose there if he wants. Surely Mister Graves would not find fault in him for it, not after the kisses they've shared.

For half a moment, mouth open against salty skin and the chemical tang of cologne he second guesses himself. What do kisses even mean, they'd run hands over each other, and Credence had gotten drunk on the pressure and affection but was he now misreading things like Tina had?

Mister Graves almost knocks them into a wall, his breath hard; when Credence grazes his teeth in as brazen a manner he can stand Mister Graves tightens his hold on Credence and groans, low and hungry. No, Credence doubts he can misinterpret that.

"Credence." And the pitched low rumble, the sound like thunder but with none of the fearful correlations, sweet and dark and everything Credence had wanted to hear for so long and now he tastes it, feeling the thrum of his name in Graves' throat. Not a Mister anymore so much and it might be a warning but it's not an angry one, Credence can hear the desperation for he has the key to this map, finally. He grazes his teeth again and they list sideways into the wall, Credence's knee and Graves' shoulder dragging against lightly singed wallpaper.

"Baby, you need to stop that for a bit." Graves tightens his hold on him.

Credence is obedient so he stops after a conciliatory kiss against a strong jaw, stomach twisting at the rough brush of stubble against his lips. It feels so good, it feels like the most amazing thing, to be allowed the affection, to have it returned. Or he's still recovering from the attack, which is far more likely, touch-starved an entire lifetime, and Graves is carrying him, holding him tight, wanting.

"But I can again, soon?"

Graves lets out a breath that shivers through his chest, "As much as you want, just let me get us to a bed, please."

Cocoa is curled up on the rock in a shaft of sunlight, asleep after no doubt a very long night guarding over the bed. Graves is there to guard now, no more house guests, no more obligations, and also no more subterfuge. Credence sinks down into the bedding, revels in the weight of the man partially braced over him, one leg hitched over Credence's hips to pin him down. A flick of the hand and the fire rises back from cinders, the window hangings draw closed against the dawn.

Graves' hair is falling forward into his face, mussed from Credence's own hand. There is a pause, the man looking down at him and Credence wonders what he's looking for, what he's reading, he can't match that intellect for its skill in reading a person but he hopes that he's not found wanting. Or that he is found wanting but in the right way, open and hungry.

He's inexperienced, it is a vague worry in the back of his head, he doubts seriously if it matters in the long run. He'll learn, he wants to, and he belongs here.

"You're not hungry are you? I should have-" Graves is cut off, Credence dragging him down with one arm and a leg to off balance his weight, kiss open-mouth and hungry, insistent, no he's not hungry or he is but he's sure the variety of hunger is clear by demonstration.

Graves nudges him with his jaw, with command, forces Credence to tilt his head to ease the kiss, forces him to relent, Credence submits with a full body shudder, eyes closed to teeth and tongue, to a hand pushing into his hair.

Mister Graves then draws back a different man then the one in the hall and the one who came before mastery and sharp dedication and Credence shudders. He shifts down Credence's body, just a slow grind, a few inches; Credence feels the weight all the way to his bones. "Credence," Mister Graves' voice is the same rough cadence it had been the night the Obscurus had drawn the curse out of him, and it sets Credence dizzy, his face hot, unaided by the drag of hip against the center of his shame, "Give us our prayer."

Credence whimpers, soft, he sounds like a wounded animal to himself, maybe he is, and maybe they're both wounded. Mister Graves slow as syrup worries Credence's bared throat with his teeth.

"But we're not sleeping." Credence is very desperate for that to be the truth, he's going to break apart if it's not, if he has to stop, if Mister Graves stops.

"No my boy, but I believe in preemptive apologies."

"Oh God, our light in Heaven, our Eternal Salvation, we are wicked things as all men are." Credence watches wide-eyed, as Mister Graves' hands drag up to the buttons on his sleep clothes, the cloth belt loosely knotted of his borrowed dressing gown, is as enraptured by the tremble in otherwise sure hands as he is by the hunger reflected in Mister Graves' face to match his own. "We are wicked and yet repentant, forgive us in time as we forgive ourselves. Love us as we come to love ourselves like You."

He doesn't love himself, he's not sure he ever will, but watching Percival's hands shudder over his buttons, not unsure but torn apart, he knows he's loved. He reaches between them, hands tangling with the ones trying to undo his buttons, and drags them up to press his lips against them. The weight shifts, Percival leaning back, shifting over, till he's kneeling astride Credence's hips, curled over him.

"You find us shameful creatures oh, Lord; cruel and craven, blood on our hands, a withered fruit on the vine. Yet You find us still beloved to You. So work us in Your rough way, cast us newly minted till we are clean again."

Percival leans in, nudges Credence's head up till there is space for him to work his teeth, sets them into flesh and worries it beneath his tongue, sucks there until it is more pain than pleasure, until Credence is gasping with it, wide-eyed and filled with wonderment.

"Teach us to be content with what we have been given by you, teach us to love that gift of ourselves as we love each other and keep us safe until we can."

It's short in comparison to most prayers but Percival isn't looking for a sermon, and Credence isn't sure how far one might go with good intentions before winding up in sacrilege. He's probably already there, preemptive apologies certainly only go so far, "Amen."

"Amen." Mister Graves parrots rough and wrecked against his throat. "Don't stop talking sweetheart."

"What should I say?" Credence trembles, shivering anew when teeth press against that tender spot Mister Graves has worked into his flesh. The pain is nothing like the pains of the body that have come before. All at once sharp and aching and it sends a twisting through the core of him, heat where Mister Graves is pinning his body by the hips.

"Anything you want."

Anything, and oh, all he's ever had to learn by rote were Bible verses, they all fly out of his head except for the ones screaming damnation and he doesn't want those right now, "When I first saw you it wasn't the week after everyone at the church was Obliviated."

Percival nips against his jaw, soft and not at all aggressive so that even the pain comes slow, like he's sinking into it, then he nudges a kiss against Credence's throat. Their hands part and he puts Credence's gently over the pillow, the tips of his fingers pressed to the headboard, a brief application of weight is all the impression Credence needs to tell him it's a command, he keeps his hands there.

"I'd seen you many times before that, especially when we went to hand out pamphlets in front of the art museum in Brooklyn." Credence closes his eyes, "You'd sometimes go and eat lunch under the trees."

"You shouldn't have been able to see me." Percival's voice is amusement, his hands draw back against Credence's clothing, and they manage much better this time.

"How could I not? That was, that was five years ago, the first time I saw you it was the day after what I thought was maybe my birthday, you were eating a sandwich and throwing pieces of bread to the pigeons. I would make up stories about you, small things. I went a whole year without seeing you even once. It's so rare that is you see, I'd see the same people every day in the same places, on errands and going to work. No one ever remembered me, no one ever really saw me or cared to."

Which had been that buried magic, the Obscurus protecting its fearful host, and Credence understood magic now, understood why he shouldn't have been able to see Percival Graves, Director of Magical Security for the Magical Congress of the United States, the important and powerful Percival Graves. But then, Credence had been an Obscurial and he looked where he liked, as much as his Ma didn't approve. He very much liked to look at Percival, and still did.

He's breathing carefully above Credence, his gaze mostly focused on the actions of his hands, each button undone and with each he uses the spread of his hands to push apart the fabric to brush against the skin revealed. He drops, body a careful arch of hips to hips, of lips to the center of Credence's chest. Credence has never before seen an image so simultaneously holy and unholy, a man lost in prayer, idolatry, Credence's hands curl against themselves and he keeps them in place.

"You were so handsome, always well-dressed, I imagined what you might sound like, what it would be like to talk to you. Mostly I embarrassed myself."

"You had a crush on me?"

"What does that mean?"

Percival shakes his head, amused, looks up at Credence from halfway down his chest, Credence isn't sure his Mister Graves can bend himself much further. "You had an infatuation with me."

Credence considers this and nods, face flushed, "You're very handsome." Even more now, with the quirk of lips, the half-closed eyes dark with lust, the hair falling forward. Credence didn't have the imagination to come up with this, and back then he would have been too terrified to anyway. "I imagined us friends, you would teach me things, tell me what life was really like. M-Mentor me."

Percival can't bend any further, Credence is right, so he solves the problem by slow grinding himself off Credence's lap. It's too much, the slow dragging pressure, the weight, painful and amazing, his breath comes hard in his chest, his heartbeat erratic; his hands tremor where they've been placed.

"Mister Graves." He whispers, desperate and open.

"You're doing so good for me Credence, you're doing so well." There are no more buttons on his shirt, and Percival's hands are at the waistband of his pajamas now, he presses his hand down against Credence's stomach so very low, hard firm pressure against the place right above the shameful pain of him, "Keep talking sweetheart, let me hear you."

“You would know how to do things I couldn’t dream of, not even now, and you’d show me, teach me how so I could escape.” Credence trembles, the pressure against him is still firm but Percival has two hands and he’s more than capable of using them both. The button on his pajamas is undone, the first of three but already Percival’s hand is brushing against the hard impression of his shame. He needs a better word for that, a better word that isn’t Biblical, and he figures that’s the kind of thing he’d be taught.

“Sometimes,” He whispers, closing his eyes tight, real shame mixed with longing, embarrassment, “I would imagine you would take me away, it wasn’t just you, I used to dream about that a lot, kind faces, intelligent faces, and I’d be taught to have some worth to someone. I know,” he cuts in before Percival can draw his lips away from the skin beneath his rib where he’s imprinting a bruise with hollow suction and intention, “I know I have worth, I do now.”

“But,” he gasps, the second button down, the edge of Percival’s hand dragging against the pulse of him, “Oh Mister Graves,” he keens soft and breathless, “Sometimes I didn’t want to just be on my own, sometimes I just wanted to be had, to be safe and enough, and the first time you touched me, you touched my arm and then I just wanted that, I wanted you to keep touching me, to want to touch me.”

This is what he had wanted, looking down at Percival who is dragging a line with his lips, unending kisses to the plane of his stomach, to the edge of his ribs, he had wanted this when the man had curved his hand around Credence's arm to lead him. They had met three times before that but hadn't touched and Credence remembered the first time they had. He would never forget it because it had been the beginning to this journey.

"You saw it, I'm so sorry, you must have thought me very wrong, but I couldn't help it. You were always so attentive, and you listened to me, and I think you liked me even then."

Percival gets the last button, he moves, shifting to the side, the pressure pinning Credence down relents, "Honestly, I wanted to take you apart, I'm not a good person Credence. If you'd been less discrete we would have been in bed long before."

But not like this, and not entangled, Credence knows, he's fitted together the pieces. The park Mister Graves took him to, the apparition points he'd checked off with Tina, the speakeasy in Harlem, the terminology Mister Graves in his lofty place separated from those without magic shouldn't have known. Credence can't even feel a bit of remorse for that hypothetical version of himself.

With Percival's hand slipping his pajamas down, underwear along with, Credence shuts his eyes tight against the shame of it; he can feel no remorse because even that version of him, never actualized, would have given anything to lie under his Mister Graves and to have this just once. If that sure commanding hand had curled around him, just like now, oh God, Credence tilts his head back, mouth open on a silent sound of desperation, he would have given anything for Mister Graves to have touched him like this back then.

To be educated, to be taught, and then to be left behind, he would have given that. But that Credence had always known he'd be left behind because he didn't belong to the world Mister Graves belonged in. There had been light words shared, never anything concrete because Mister Graves was an auror and also very law abiding, very just and faithful to his duties. Credence would have given anything to be wanted and that's what had been used against him ultimately. The longing and hunger for this touch, not just the stroke of Percival's hand firm and careful that had him panting but anything, any regard, any promise that he was something worth desiring, worth caring for.

"I would have let you; I would have wanted you to." Credence affirms aloud, "You could have had me Mister Graves, in the alley, on my knees, I would have let you. You could have taken me anywhere with you I wanted you so bad." Wanted to be kept, told, held.

Percival strokes three times, three rough pulls and then he moves his hands up, pressure tight and hard against Credence's ribs, as if he can hear the words inside of him too but he doesn't think Percival listens like Queenie does or he would have known all along how much Credence has needed him, not just like this, but desperately and painfully and always too much. "Breathe sweetheart."

Credence obeys, feels the pressure as he does, the weight of those strong hands confining him. He watches as Mister Graves moves his hands, pulls Credence's leg up and presses it up and up further until it's over his broad shoulder, the strain painful but good. He pins Credence's other leg between them and then he's rocking in and down, the rough texture of the man's slacks setting his nerves on fire. A tap of the hand to his leg and he knows to keep it still, his hands twitching against the headboard.

He keeps breathing, and Percival keeps rocking, slow, and methodical, "You're so beautiful like this, you're doing so good Credence. Keep talking sweetheart, let me hear you fall apart."

Credence sobs in on a breath, casting desperately for something that isn't I wanted you to be my ruin because I could control that . That isn't I loved the thought of you before you ever knew I existed , something that isn't damning.

He tilts his head back and teeth alight on his throat again, and he's shaking so badly, he's sinking in water over his head; there is so much touch, so much pressure, so much. He's drunk on the affection and the press of teeth, the careful consideration for him even as the pain sinks in, Percival taking by ounce his piece of flesh, so slow Credence can fall into it. "I tried not to, I tried to be good, but I wanted you so much."

No , "I want you so much." He fixes his own phrasing.

Percival cants his hips down, shifts his hand between them to arrange the line of them. His other hand moves, bracing up Credence's leg even further, to capture his wrists still obediently resting on the pillows in one tight grip. A short kiss then a nip to his lip.

"I wanted to be good, I tried not to want you. To be obedient and then I wanted to be good for you because there wasn't anything, there was nothing else left." Credence is crying, his body pain and need, his eyes shut tight but he knows he's more ghost now, such a little death and his hands clutching together over the command of a sure grip. The hand between them cups him low, tight pressure, harsh friction. He's breathing so hard, a sharp sound torn painfully from his throat.

"You are Credence, you're so good for me, that's it baby." Mister Graves' voice is such a sweet deep thing, soothing, it is truly what cuts through everything, breaks the shame to pieces, it's all he wants, Credence could listen to that praise eternally, "I've got you, let go."

He doesn't even realize, not till he's over the edge, but of course Percival had hard flesh in his hand, Credence's increasingly breathless sounds, the tremor in his spread legs. He comes panting back arched, a blessed burn fizzling along his nerves, fire and sparks in the center of his chest. It is nothing like the first time, but it is everything he'd wanted that first time, Percival praising him, lips and teeth, words kissed into his skin.

Credence feels too hollow to be this physical, too wrung out. Percival is rearranging him, shifting limbs, pressure and weight, rolls over on the bed and drags Credence with him till he's in his lap. When he can finally open his eyes there is a hand carding through his hair patiently, lips against his temple, he shifts closer till he can wrap his arms around Percival's shoulders.

"My lumos." Mister Graves whispers, a hitch in his voice, Credence leans in till he can press kisses to his rough jaw, card his own hand through short hair.

"Tell me how to be good for you now." Credence is all dark depths, unexplored territory, lowered gaze and bitten lips.

Mister Graves leans back against the headboard, pulls Credence back by a sure grip in his hair and Credence knows explicitly why his magic had chosen this length of hair for him. He considers Credence, outward neutrality doing little to hide the burn in his gaze, the hard length pressed to Credence's leg. "What if I denied you?"

Credence feels the pang sink into him, his head lowers, and the grip of Mister Graves' hand in his hair allows the visual submission, "Do you, do you want me to beg?"

Mister Graves' grip tightens, he pulls Credence up gently, moves his hand to cup his chin, presses delicate kisses to his lips, cheek, jaw, to the bridge of his nose, "I would love to hear you beg for my cock, but we'll work our way there."

Credence feels a sharp breathless spike of adulation, the word he's been looking for.

There must be something in the way he looks right now, a glimmer of excitement and understanding that Percival latches onto, and Credence is too busy looking at the curious expression on his face to notice his hands moving to brace and hold at his hip and around his back. When his other hand begins to dig firm yet gentle into his side with skittering movements, Credence yelps and squirms his arms tight around his Mister Graves’ shoulders, almost climbing up him by upper body strength alone.

What had been a delightfully mellow sexual atmosphere turned quite quickly into Credence trying to wriggle away, shrieking in an undignified manner and then, and then something breaks apart in his chest, breaks open like paper mache, he's almost screaming with laughter wriggling in the man's lap, twisting every which way to try and get free but equally desperate to stay right here where he belongs.

It goes until he's out of breath, gasping, still wriggling and then the hands are firm and heavy, soothing down his sides, pulling him out of the robe and top completely. He's still breathing heavily, and now he's embarrassed, eyes downcast subtly shivering but not from the cold.

There are scars on his shoulders, on the length of his arms; they're on the back of his thighs too. He'd never had access to a real mirror for any duration until the past month but he knows they're on his back too. Percival moves to collect his arms and kisses his wrist, eyes closed, a level of quiet adoration Credence imagines was once reserved for a rosary.

"Forgive me, I couldn't help it, I had to hear your laugh and you are so very sensitive." Mister Graves doesn't sound too apologetic. He's also still hard, and Credence can feel the length of him nestled between his thighs; he shivers under the pressure of another kiss this one against the palm of his hand.

"You can take from me anything, Percival." He's rewarded for the soft cadence of his voice by the rock of hips, pushing his whole body up with the force, Mister Graves much renewed from his time in captivity or Credence is just that weightless. A mixture probably, Credence wriggles to reseat himself and is grasped tight for his effort.

"You use my name like a weapon against me and I can't even bring myself to be offended by it." Mister Graves bites his shoulder a gentle nip, Credence still breathless hitches in on a draw, his lungs burn, his body burning too with interest.

"Good, I mean no offense."

"What do you mean then Credence?" So much amusement in the dry weight of his tone, when Credence looks to his face though there is nothing but heat and badly covered desperation in his eyes.

"For you to look at me like that, never stop looking at me like that please; I could survive on your want of me alone Mister Graves."

His face is caught up, his lips captured, worried under teeth, slow gentle and then deep and hungry, never brutal, it goes and goes and he isn't allowed to catch his breath at all. When Mister Graves finally draws away Credence is panting, drunk. "Circe's smile, Credence." Percival sighs, breathless too. "You know how to get to a man's ego quick."

Credence twists in his lap to press against his hands, to push their lips together, chaste and fleeting. "How can I please you sir?" He watches Graves' eyes darken, blown out lust and pleasure, his own is a thrill down his spine. Heavy hands pet down his sides, brace on his hips and move him about till he's straddling broad hips. Credence tries to ignore how he's hard again, tries to ignore how embarrassing it is to be on display like this, it's easier with the sight of those lust-darkened eyes eating him up. The shame washed away with the pleasure of his heady attention.

He draws up his courage but still his voice hitches, "P-Please Mister Graves, let me have your cock." It's so stilted and prim, it's not a proper begging at all but Credence finds a hand in his hair, the other braced so hard on his hip he might bruise and just the thought of more evidence, a quill's stroke overwriting the ownership of his old life, it has him moaning.

"You don't even know what to do with it, Credence." Percival gentles him, drags him in to mouth hot kisses against his throat, teeth set against the bruises already livid on his skin.

"No, but you'll teach me, sir." Credence shivers, closes his eyes tight to savor the command of heavy hands and punishing kisses.

"You can have anything you want, but I'm not going to take what you don't even have the words to give me." Percival's kisses are gentle again, his eyes are shut, his hands tremor against Credence's skin. "We'll get there, I’ll tell you what you need to know to make decisions on what you want and what you’re willing to give. We have time."

Credence settles his weight, loosely strokes his hands against broad shoulders under fancy suit jacket, tracks the green-lined threading of his lapels. "How can I be good for you then?"

"Oh Credence," Mister Graves looks up at him, a soft smile in the darkness of his eyes, "You've only ever been good for me." And it isn't the kind of good that is obedience and punishment, it's the kind of good one gets with a dose of medicine, with sunshine, salvation.

Credence tucks his face down against Percival's neck, closes his eyes, and so much of this hurts, so much of him is pain, but it's the kind that comes with healing, the ache of broken bones mending, of his skin stitching back together under a careful touch. He still hates himself maybe, he still feels the guilt and shame, but he has worth, and they have time.

He belongs here, Percival's lips against his ear, "Just lay with me."

The tension bleeds under gentle strokes, the urgency abates. They lay tangled up, morning draining Credence's nervous energy as much as the hands gentling him down.

"You're still responsible." Credence is bundled up by the covers, held against thick chest.

Percival yawns, "No, just patient."

Credence knows it's not about a lack of want, oh he had felt it, it's bruised into him, burned into his soul, he can be patient too. It's easier with the fatigue. He hums contentment, soft hymnal, wordless in his memory, just the sound of the organ in that big church he went to before Ma took him out of the orphanage.

"I know that one." Mister Graves snorts.

"Go to sleep sir, you must be tired."

"It delights me when you use me as an excuse, Credence." The dry humor of his voice is a delight; followed by a soft kiss to his cheek. Mister Graves snaps his fingers in a flash manner and his clothing drops neatly folded in the chair by the fire. Credence slips his hands up bare chest under the blankets. "Oh no I'm much too tired for you to be doing that."

Credence hums and tucks his head back against broad shoulder. "Yes sir." Hides a yawn in the quilt, but Percival laughs and he can feel it in his own chest.

He drifts for a while first, warmth, safety, a bracket of arms and the soft steady breathing of the man beneath him. So he could have been in Europe, he could have been with Mister Scamander in that suitcase of his, going on grand adventures maybe, learning magic definitely. Wash his hands of New York, run from the pain he'd suffered, the pain he'd caused. It would have been easier by far in that other life.

It never would have been as good as this is, unable to keep his eyes open, a hand tangled in his hair with sleep loose grip, the ache of something rough behind him. It wouldn't have had Percival Graves in it.

As choices came, it had been the biggest one he'd made in this life and he doesn't regret it one bit, and he never will.